Frank James a Thanksgiving Star at Norfolk

Frank James. NSHS RG2316-44

Thanksgiving Day in Norfolk in 1904 was marked not only by religious services and family dinners, but by the “amusement feature of the day,” matinee and evening performances of Hal Reid’s melodrama The Fatal Scar. The star of the show was none other than Frank James (1843-1915), the older brother of outlaw Jesse James (1847-1882). Frank James was one of several former outlaws, including Cole Younger, who entered show business after their criminal careers ended. During the last thirty years of his life, James worked at a variety of jobs, including a short-lived stint as an actor.

The Fatal Scar was advertised by the Norfolk Weekly News-Journal on November 11 as “well worth looking at as a matter of curiosity.” Apparently the residents of Norfolk agreed. There was no football game in town that Thanksgiving, no ice for skating, and no snow for sledding. The focus of attention after dinner was the theater. The News-Journal said on December 2:

Street scene of Norfolk published by the Norfolk Postcard Company. NSHS RG1431-50-1

“A good house greeted the attraction during the afternoon and the theater was packed from orchestra chairs to the top of the gallery at night. It was one of the biggest houses that has been seen in the theater during this or any other season. Frank James, the former desperado, was the ‘star’ attraction in the Fatal Scar company and really about the whole show.”

The troupe left Norfolk the day after Thanksgiving for Fremont. Frank James continued to attract audiences as the show moved across Nebraska. But as the Alliance Herald noted after A Fatal Scar had played in that city, James as an actor was “far from a star and no doubt would do a better job in a more familiar but discarded profession.”

Want to read more about Nebraska’s past? Become a member of the Nebraska State Historical Society and receive Nebraska History magazine, four issues yearly. Selected articles from past issues are posted online at the NSHS website. – Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor / Publications



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