Bridgeton, NJ


—ANOTHER DISCOVERED LECTURE—

In verifying Oscar Wilde’s tour of America, one occasionally come across previously unrecorded lectures, such as the ones at the seaside resort of Narragansett Pier, RI, a second talk given by Wilde in Saratoga Springs, and another he gave for the YMCA in Yorkville, New York City [1].

This last lecture in New York redefined what biographers thought had been Wilde’s final lecture in North America at St. John, in New Brunswick, Canada.

Now another lecture has emerged which also post-dates Wilde final Canada visit.

Bridgeton, New Jersey

Bridgeton was, and still is, a small industrial city on the Cohansey River in the Delaware Bay lowlands. A crossing there gives the city its name. That Oscar Wilde delivered a lecture there is all the more remarkable because Bridgeton is located some distance from New York City where Wilde was living at the time.

Moreover, Oscar found time to travel and stay overnight in Bridgeton on October 26th when he was quite active in the city, including welcoming Lillie Langtry to America at dawn on October 23rd, and attending and speaking at a celebratory dinner for Charles Wyndham on October 28.

No record is known as to how this talk came to be arranged in a fairly remote part of south Jersey, but we do have details of Wilde’s travel arrangements and his much derided lecturing style.

Moore’s Music Hall

Wilde lecture venue was 1000-seater Moore’s Music Hall dedicated on November 1, 1879 on South Laurel Street. Moore was an early family name in Bridgeton and the music hall, built by J. M. Moore & Son, also housed the William J. Moore boot and shoe store. The venue was sold-out for Wilde’s visit but his performance, as can be gleaned from the reports, was a disappointment.

There is no record of Wilde’s accommodation in Bridgeton, but the principal hotels in 1882 were the Davis House and Hohenstatt Hotel which was across the street from the theatre.

After a year or so the Music Hall was renamed the Opera House, a trend that was popular in the 1880s in small towns and cities eager to appear more cultured regardless of whether operas were actually staged. Around the turn of the century, the theatre found its niche as the Criterion, a vaudeville house and later movie theatre. On June 14, 1949, the Criterion met the same fate that befell most of Wilde lecture venues when it was destroyed by fire. It was replaced by the Laurel movie house in 1950, also since demolished.

Wilde returning to New York the next day via Camden, New Jersey. His allusion in the newspaper report to Walt Whitman recalls Wilde’s two visits to the good gray poet earlier in the year.


[1] The New York final lecture was first noted in The Wildean (journal of the Oscar Wilde Society), No. 42, January 2013.

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John Cooper

John Cooper is a researcher, author, blogger and documentary historian. As a long-standing member of the Oscar Wilde Society in London, a founding member of the Oscar Wilde Society of America, and a former manager of the Victorian Society In America, he has spent 30 years in the study of Oscar Wilde, having lectured on Wilde, and contributing to TV, film, and academic journals including The Wildean and Oscholars. Online he is the designer, author and editor of this noncommercial archive Oscar Wilde in America, blogger, and moderator of the Oscar Wilde Internet discussion groups at Yahoo and Google. For the last 14 years he has specialized in new and unique research into Oscar Wilde in New York, where he conducts guided walking tours based on the visits of Oscar Wilde. In 2012 John rediscovered Oscar Wilde's essay The Philosophy Of Dress that forms the centerpiece to his recent book Oscar Wilde On Dress (2013).

13 thoughts on “Bridgeton, NJ”

    1. I thought that! But maybe the reporter expected Wilde to pronounce it in the American way: ‘bin’. Someone needs to dig up this chap’s review of Dickens’ American lectures, just to check if his critical standards were consistent…

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      1. Worth noting also that Wilde was Irish, which might not only explain certain apparently British pronunciations (like ‘bean’ for been), but also the use of ‘koortesy’ for courtesy (which we of course pronounce ‘kurtesy’), definitely an Irishism. The general snottiness of the review, though, may have little to do with linguistics. Bridgeton was an industrial city, but also quite the educational hub at the time. This might explain the invitation to Wilde to lecture here in the first place, and his visit may have gone down better among some of the young cognoscenti of the Bridgeton student elite than the review suggests. There is nothing new about the culture wars! Note too that Bridgeton’s nearness to Camden (and Walt Whitman) would also have been a reason to stop and make the most of his appearance opportunities. Anyway, thanks for opening this brilliant window into the city’s cultural life at the time! We here in Bridgeton will definitely be following up!

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      2. Thank you for that contribution Flavia. I live in south Jersey myself so that discovery was particularly interesting. Let me know if there is anything you can add. John Cooper.

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  1. I am already talking with my friend/colleague/resource person about what went on at Moore’s Opera House (and, in anticipation, he says ‘a lot’), but think about this little town having an ‘opera house’ at all–quite the eyeopener on local culture, isn’t it! And check out the institutions of higher learning here in 1882: the South Jersey Institute (which was coed, no less), the West Jersey Academy (for men), Ivy Hall (for women), and coed Bridgeton High School itself. On the leading edge of industrial development (considered about this time and into the early 20th century ‘the most prosperous city in the state’), Bridgeton actually boasted its educational opportunities for women. There were throwbacks, of course, and a lot of proper Presbyterians or smartass conservatives to stay the course (and maybe write reviews like this one). But generally the culture was quite literate and artistically cultured and politically/socially progressive (and still is), so I bet the reviewer rattled a few cages. Never mind. Thank you. It’s delicious to see how a little touchstone like a visit by Oscar Wilde could throw an historical window like this wide open.

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