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The Minstrel Mail Man: Lima's First Mail Carrier Thomas J. Gorman ~ Musician and Minstrel Performer

Breta K. Gorman
Reader and Teacher of Expression
Photo: As 'The Roman Girl' in The Confessional

"Collecting Lima" - Let's look at this Lima, Ohio postcard picturing Miss Breta K. Gorman.

Performing Runs In the Family

"Miss Breta Gorman, a former graduate of St. Rose High School has opened a class in elocution. She has already secured a large number of pupils and her many friends feel assured that she will be successful in her new undertaking. Miss Gorman is the bright and talented daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Thes. J. Gorman, of North West Street, Lima Ohio." [Source] November 1906

Breta must have inherited her performing talents from her father, as:

"Gorman was more familiarly known to his legion of friends as "Honey." In the gay nineties, he could always be counted upon as end man* in any of the minstrels that were offered. He also played the cornet and flute in musical presentations of those days."

Thomas J. Gorman, Sr. passed in January 1938. 
Read this obituary text here.

Thomas Gorman was one of Lima's first mail carriers (circa 1883 when the Pendleton Civil Service Reform Act went into force). 

I find several early Lima News society mentions of Miss Breta Gorman performing, giving recitals and singing. 

Around 1914 Breta married, and became "Mrs. Patrick Henessy" (Hennessy?).

By Mr. Gorman's 1938 obituary, it appears that Breta was now "Mrs. Paul Davis". 

No later info on Breta Henessy or Breta Davis.

Performing obviously ran in the family. Sister Anna sang at her church. Brother Tom (Thomas J. Gorman Jr.) performed in dramatic clubs.


*Minstrelsy: What's An End Man?

According to Minstrelsy historian Jim Comer:

George Christy invented the "line", a semicircle of performers in blackface in which 'end men' joked at the expense of a "middleman". This practice remained unchanged from 1850 to 1961... Christy called the white middleman "Mr. Interlocutor" and the blackfaced endmen, "Mr. Tambo" and "Mr. Bones", from their instruments.
The show began with the company processing onto the stage singing and dancing. Mr. Interlocutor then gave his famous command, "Gentlemen, Be Seated!". The "first part" of the show was jokes between Mr. Interlocutor and the endmen, mixed with songs, dances, skits and speeches imitating black oratory.

Also see the history of Christy's Minstrels. 
(No relation to the 1960's folk group The New Christy Minstrels.)

On the END MAN, Minstrelsy historian Dominic Vautier writes: 

The interlocutor, or middleman, is usually in whiteface, well dressed, acts as master of ceremonies, and controls the general pace of the show.  His demeanor is proud, haughty, and condescending, representing the upper class, businessmen, land owners, and politicians. 

At the end of both sides of the semicircle of performers are his arch antagonists, Mr. Bones to his left and Mr. Tambo on his right, so named because they play bones (castanets) and tambourine, respectively.
These two people, known as end-men, are always in blackface and are dressed in colorful and often outlandish outfits.

They continue through the course of the program to ridicule, belittle, and torment the unfortunate interlocutor, making all manner of jokes at his expense.  The interlocutor is slow of mind and manner, and purposely acts as the butt of all these jokes.  

Bones: Mr. Interlocutor, I’d like to ask you a question.
Inter:  Why certainly.  Go ahead Mr. Bones.
Bones: What has four legs and flies?
Inter: You’re not going to pull that old one on me again, are you?
Bones: Why you just don’t know the answer do you?
Inter:  Of course I do.  It’s a dead horse.
Bones: Wrong, all wrong.
(mild laughter)
Inter: I’m wrong?  Well suppose you tell me then what has four legs and flies.
Bones: Two pair of pants.
(great laughter)

The characters of minstrelsy remained much the same: the middleman (in whiteface, proud, haughty, well dressed, slow of mind) and the end-men (black-faced wise-guys, smart-alecks, outlandishly dressed). 

The end-men symbolized the common man, that is to say, the audience, and when the smart-alecks directed their ridicule at class structure, they spoke for the masses.  Common folk felt that social position, power, and wealth did not reflect essential human worth, and that all people were equal, in life, in death, and on stage. Minstrelsy sang the praises of a society without class.  

The character in blackface was a “wise-guy,” and he was never the butt of the audience’s laughter.  He was, instead, the audience’s accomplice in the assault on class distinctions.

Note: These items are part of my ''Collecting Lima Virtual Museum''. They are not for sale.

If/when I find more information on these items, I will add it to the post.

Read the Introduction to my ''Collecting Lima'' Virtual Museum Project, all about my Lima Ohio Bottles, Advertising, Antiques collection.

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