|Burlesque Queens! Vaudeville Comics! Hot Dogs, Tassels - even George Washington - they're all here on the Scollay Square web site. Created by the author of the only two books ever written about Scollay Square, this website is packed with pictures and stories of the people and the places that drew millions here during its 120-year reign as Boston's entertainment district. There are also pages filled with cartoons, postcards, movie clips, even some rare recordings of Sally Keith singing. So take a look around and, please, feel free to email any questions or with your own memories of Scollay Square.||
On page 240 of Striptease (Oxford University Press, 2004) author Rachel Shteir wrote "Buddy Wade's tap shoes caught fire, the sparks igniting her costume, and she burned to death one night at the Old Howard in Boston." When I contacted Ms. Shteir about this claim, she was unable to recall the source of this story, said she could not find her notes of the interview, nor could she remember the date the fire is alleged to have occurred. My search, which included reaching out to my network of Scollay Square denizens came up empty.
JULY 2020: Miss Mina Murray, Headmistress at the Boston Academy of Burlesque Education, emailed me in July 2020 with the real story, one no less tragic:
Iíve found the story about Buddy Wade burning to death at the Old Howard! In his column on January 15, 1936, (I found it in the Reading (PA) Times) Walter Winchell quotes a letter from Lester Allen at the Boston Post. Buddy Wade was a chorus girl in the Merry Maidens burlesque show at ďan old burlesk theatre here in BostonĒ. The chorus was about to perform a ballet dance when a spark from an arc lamp set her tulle skirt on fire. She stepped away from the other dancers and headed backstage to some spot without anything flammable. She died from the burns at Haymarket Relief hospital. I found a second article in the Detroit Free press from March of 1936 expanding on the story, and clarifying that it was the Old Howard, but still saying the fire was caused by a spark from a light dropping onto her costume. Her death was noted in the annual round-up in The Billboard on December 26, 1936. So, a fire, yes, but not sparked by tap shoes, and she didnít die at the theatre.
Thank you, Miss Mina! I found the Winchell column in the January 16 edition of the Decatur Daily. Here it is reprinted in full. Miss Mina and I were speculating as to why the story does not appear in any Boston papers. Lester Allen (of the Boston Post) writes "For some business reason or other the story never appeared here." Thirty-three years earlier the Iroquois Theater Fire took over 600 lives. As this was during the Depression, were newspapers afraid of losing the regular advertising business of the Old Howard by reporting the fire, which might have scared away customers? Or were there other forces at work suppressing the story?
Miss Mina, I am tremendously grateful to you for finding the real story of Buddy Wade. Thank you!
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