Historic Structures

Other Events at the Theatre Academy Building, Fall River Massachusetts

Beginning with the inaugural Grand Ball on February 18, 1878, the Academy of Music became the center of Fall River social life for more than twenty years. A removable dance floor was built and laid in sections, utilizing 14,000 board feet of wood. It covered the entire stage, ending at the rail of the parquet circle, and such was the slope of the floor that only the last two rows of seats had to be removed for it to be laid. Once 1t was down, the Auditorium became a vast dance floor surrounded by a horseshoe of comfortable seats from which to observe the goings-on. Balls became frequent, and workmen began to assemble the floor for the following night immediately after a stage performance, and to disassemble it right after the dance, often at four or five in the morning. On one occasion remembered by ex-manager Burrell, a show-dance-show sequence kept manager and workmen busy non-stop for two days and three nights.

The Inaugural Grand Ball was attended by all Fall River and New Bedford society, with contingents from Providence, Taunton, and Newport as well. The guests were divided between "dancers" (more than 300), and "spectators" (close to 500), and these two groups entered through separate entries from street level.

In later years, the greatest annual event was always the ball of the Street Railway Employees, a very large and rambunctious group.

Fall River's political rallies were also often held at the Academy of Music, particularly the ones organized by State Republican Committee Chairman Henry Cabot Lodge. Along with Massachusetts Governor Benjamin F. Butler, frequent speakers were Thomas B. Reed, John L. Swift, Wendell Phillips, George F. Hoar, William W. Crapo, George Fred Williams, William E. Russell, George D. Robinson and John D. Long. Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891), the great Irish nationalist leader, came to speak in 1880. Robert 6. Ingorsoll (1833-1899), a fiery orator known as "the Great Agnostic" also came to speak at the Academy many times.

During the 1880s, the Academy of Music was used as a stage for public seances. Spiritualist groups, usually performing on Sunday nights, apparently made no secret to theatre staff of their trap doors and secret wires, so fine as to be invisible from even a close distance. Others made their living by debunking spiritualism: showing how various tricks were performed on the stage.