Lola’s mother had found out about new life in Europe, and she went into mourning as if her daughter was dead, sending out customary funeral letters on stationary edged in black. Lola could have easily been the richest woman to ever live, had she preferred her own advantage over political freedom. Lola’s identity had been revealed at Her Majesty’s Theatre, it led to an arrest on a charge of bigamy. Lola’s wealthy new husband George Trafford Heald bailed her out of jail and they ran to Spain. The feisty and sometimes violent Montez and Heald were not getting along and the couple eventually decided to split while in Portugal. When George Heald suddenly and mysteriously drowned there in Portugal, Lola gained Heald’s large inheritance. Lola, with her new fortune, was ready to find a new start. It was 1850, and she left for the land the whole world had been rushing to, The United States of America.
On the stages up and down the east coast of the New World, Lola Montez debuted a southern Italian folk dance, her own gussied up version of a lively tarantella. She wore tights in the color of her flesh, and layers and layers of petticoats in every color that bounced with her quick, flirtatious steps. In her act, she was playing the part of a maiden in the country, who had spiders in her clothes. The spiders hung from her gloves and gown and hid under the layers of her petticoat. As she shook off and stomped away the toy spiders that riddled her costume and the stage, she exposed her shapely legs and as she lifted her skirt, the men cheered for her to find each and every spider. Lola lifted her petticoat so high that the men in the audience went crazy, for they could see, onstage, Lola wore no underclothing at all. Lola Montez was a smash. Although not everyone impressed, and some believed her performance was unprofessional, and talentless.
Lola stirred up excitement on that side of the new world for two years. After one particular show at an East Coast theatre, the manager openly criticized her spider act. Backstage, the sassy star retaliated with the bull whip she used onstage, busting the manager’s face open. Denying the assault later, Lola said instead “there is one comfort in the falsehood, which is, that this man very likely would have deserved the whipping.” It was soon decided that she may be a better match with the lawless west. Without telling anyone, Lola caught a ride via a Pacific Mail paddle-wheel steamer in New Orleans, headed for California.
After the passage along the isthmus of Panama, and finally on the last ship of the voyage, Lola stood on the deck with a male distinguished fellow passenger looking out over the water. He asked her about her life. “My father was Irish, she told Brannan. “Irish! Well, then where did you get the name Montez?” Lola Montez stared out into the still ocean, “I took it”. She said. Just like I have taken everything I ever wanted.”
He chuckled, approvingly. This man was Sam Brannan. California's first millionaire. Brannan was on his way home after doing business in Boston and New York, he had a wife and 4 children at home in California yet he was paying much attention to his glamorous shipmate. The 29 year old Lola was by now an epic tabloid sensation in The United States. Her political schemes, erotic expolits and violent temper had made the top headlines through out the world. Yet no one would be at the long wharf to greet her when she stepped off the ship into San Francisco in 1853. She was arriving unannounced.
On the northeast corner of Sansome and Halleck streets, stood the American Theater. The American Theatre was the first brick large building built on the newly made soil along Sansome Street on land reclaimed from Yerba Buena Cove. During its opening night two years earlier in 1851, The American Theatre was so crowded that the walls sunk a couple of inches from the weight.
The irish satirist Richard Brinsley Sheridan's comedy "School for Scandal” was playing, and Lola Montez was playing Lady Teazle. The theater was able to charge $5 for the best seats. An outrageous price. The reason being, the men in the audience truly desired to see her famous risque Spider Dance they had read about in the East Coast papers, and with that it was more than a dance they wanted to see. If you know what I mean. Lola obliged on the second night, to the delight of the mostly male audience her body exposed by her contortions. She won the people over through naked charisma and pure force of personality. The act was reasonably well received by some, and it outraged others who felt they were obliged to look for the spiders in improper places.
Lola Montez was an eccentric woman who fascinated the masses entirely. She wore trousers and she carried a bull whip. She had an uncommon for ladies’ fondness for hand-rolled cigarettes, and smoked openly! She became the first woman to ever be photographed while smoking. She straddled highbrow and lowbrow classes, rejecting the restrictive social codes associated with Victorian notions of “true womanhood.” Lola had the appearance of a Duchess. As she spoke the royal illusion evaporated. Her vial mouth would have been considered to be unacceptable even in the wee hours of the city's most provocative men’s smoking clubs. Although they watched her every move, and even sometimes copied her style, San Francisco's respectable classes never truly embraced Lola Montez, and she really felt it.
Lola was being courted by the married Sam Brannan. He was spoiling her in finer style than her Bavarian King Ludwig had ever provided her. Quite an impressive feat. Sam Brannan had an income of one thousand dollars a day, which is over 30,000 in 2020. He owned one hundred and seventy thousand acres, over 250 square miles where present day Los Angeles County lies. He lived well and lavishly, drinking and womanizing freely. Ann Eliza Brannan, his wife eventually divorced Sam, and when she did, she took half of everything he had. Lola moved on.
In San Francisco’s early years, attending the theatre was a mostly male centered activity for they were the majority of the population. By 1853 it had become a highbrow sophisticated activity for audiences of both genders. Giving a place that countered the degrading, debilitating atmosphere of the times. The American Theatre had a rival theatre that was aptly named The San Francisco. One of the first original plays staged in the city was put on at the theatre San Francisco. "Who's Got the Countess?", a satire that profited off of Lola’s deflating balloon. For two weeks, the burlesque packed the house. Some audience members accused the play of going too far. A writer for the Herald said the show was "an exceeding coarse and vulgar attack upon one who, whatever her faults and foibles may have been, has proved herself a noble-hearted and generous woman."
Lola Montez was performing onstage one evening in Sacramento, when someone laughed during the Spider Dance. Lola berated the audience and then stormed offstage. In the papers, it read that it was believed Montez had papered the house with her supporters. A letter challenging the editor to a duel soon surfaced, assertedly from Lola that read "You may choose between my dueling pistols or take your choice of a pill out of a pill box. One shall be poison and one shall not."
When Lola first sailed to San Francisco, on the same trip she met Brannan, she also met Patrick Purdy Hull. He was an irish reporter and the owner of the newspaper The San Francisco Whig. Lola said Patrick Hull could tell a story better than any other man she had known, and that was why she fell in love with him. On 1 July 1853 at the Mission Dolores, in a catholic ceremony, Lola Montez and Patrick Hull were married. Making Lola a US citizen. Lola did not want to live among the ridicule in the city, and instead bought a mine in a swelteringly hot ravine. The property was close to two of the richest mines in Nevada Country, California, Empire Mine and North Star Mine. She left San Francisco for the unincorporated town of Grass Valley.
Three years prior to her move to Grass Valley, the town held its first election under a large oak tree and one year later a building was constructed on the site. It was first used as the office for Gilmor Meredith's Gold Hill Mining Company, and then as a schoolhouse. Lola Montez purchased the building at 248 Mill St in Grass Valley and made it the home where her parrot, pet monkey, herself and Hull would live.
The town’s disdain for the woman was proven by Grass Valley’s Reverend when he spoke in a sermon denouncing Montez, warning the locals of the newest evil in town, calling the woman a hussy. Word passes to Lola, who was outraged at the statement and decided she would prove the quality of her act to the man herself. That night, she stormed into the Reverend’s house where he was sitting to eat dinner with his wife. Lola Montez demanded the couple watch her full performance. She stomped and clapped and shook around his living room until he finally agreed she was in fact, a professional.
Montez ended up hated her life with her newest husband, and rather spent her days in Grass Valley with the young girl next door. Patrick Hull was tired of the parties and extremely spiteful of his wife’s popularity. When a baron who was visiting from Europe attended one of Lola’s social gatherings, he gifted her a grizzly bear to add to her exotic collection of pets. She named him Major. Patrick Hull was insanely jealous, and this final straw yanked a tear in the relationship that could not be mended. Hull sued Montez for divorce, naming a german doctor as the co-respondent. A few days later, the doctor was found in near-by hills, shot dead.
The neighbors, who ran a boarding house, had a daughter who was fascinated with the clearly unique Lola Montez and her private menagerie. It was not long before Lola was equally fascinated by the little girl, who was genuinely talented.She taught her to sing and dance and live wildly and allowed her to play in her extravagant costumes. Lola taught the young irish girl to sing ballads and perform ballet steps, fandangos, jig reels and Irish Highland flings from Lola’s own childhood. The little blonde child’s sense of rhythm surpassed Lola’s, and she impressed the theatrical elite, strolling players and entertainers who came to the lavish parties Montez hosted. The unlikely pair rode bareback together, on a horse and pony. Despite the townspeople’s opinion, the mother of the girl liked Lola and appreciated the time she spent with her daughter.
In the two years that Lola lived in Grass Valley, the California Gold Rush was ending, yet there was another gold mining rush in full swing. She hired Augustus Noel Folland, a married American actor as her new manager, hired a company of actors, and within two weeks, they were all sailing to Sydney Australia, aboard the Fanny Major. By the time they arrived, two months later, she had taken her new manager on as a lover. The following week, Lola’s show opened at the Royal Victoria Theatre in a show titled 'Lola Montez in Bavaria'. That night, Montez fired some of the company, and they quickly sued her for damages.
As Lola and Folland were waiting to depart Sydney for Melbourne on board the Waratah,
A sheriff's officer boarded the ship with a warrant of arrest, demanding she paid the sacked actors. Lola ran to her cabin, where she undressed. She sent out a note inviting the officer in to arrest her and drag her out. He left empty handed.
Audiences began to diminish at the Theatre Royal in Melbourne as Montez performed in her Bavarian role. Monttez made the decision to bring out her 'Spider Dance'. It was an instant hit for the men in the audience, again, Montez raising her skirts so high that the audience could see she wore no underclothing at all. The papers roared that her performance was 'utterly subversive to all ideas of public morality'. The theatre began to show heavy losses when respectable families ceased to attend the theatre. One even summoned the mayor of Melbourne to issue a warrant for her arrest for public indecency, but he refused the application. Months later in Ballarat, packed houses miners were showering gold nuggets at her feet yet again, the papers attacked her notoriety. Lola by now had a motto, “Courage---and shuffle the cards". When Lola ran into the Ballarat Timeseditor Henry Seekamp at the United States Hotel, she retaliated by publicly horsewhipping him. Resulting in the rest of her tour being canceled. Folland and Montez quarreled excessively as they left for San Francisco on May 22 1856. On the journey near Fiji on the night of July 8th, Folland mysteriously fell overboard and drowned. Some believed he committed suicide after there fight, other believe he was pushed. No official investigation followed.
When Lola arrived back in the United States in 1856, she was different, subdued. Whatever happened on that ship, changed Lola Montez.Her previous lover from the past Alexandre Dumas once said 'She is fatal to any man who dares to love her'. Uncharacteristically, she sold her jewelry and gave the proceeds to Folland’s children. She began using the remains of her bank account to give homeless and less fortunate women food, water and money. She decided to spread knowledge rather than performance, and began lecturing on her life, fashion, beauty, and famous women.
"I have known all the world has to give -- ALL!" She began to write her book titled The Arts of Beauty, Or, Secrets of a Lady's Toilet: With Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascinating.
Dance with all the might of your body, and all the fire of your soul, in order that you may shake all melancholy out of your liver; and you need not restrain yourself with the apprehension that any lady will have the least fear that the violence of your movements will ever shake anything out of your brains. I never claimed to be famous. Notorious I have always been.
She moved to New York, and reinvented herself once more. Embracing christianity, and with the Reverend Charles Chauncy Burr she arranged to deliver a series of moral lectures in Britain and America written by him. She returned to Ireland and did her final lecture in Dublin, “America and its people”, speaking in Limerick and Cork. Then returned to America in 1859. Later that year, the Philadelphia Press wrote Lola was iving very quietly up town, and doesn't have much to do with the world's people. Some of her old friends, the Bohemians, now and then drop in to have a little chat with her, and though she talks beautifully of her present feelings and way of life, she generally, by way of parenthesis, takes out her little tobacco pouch and makes a cigarette or two for self and friend, and then falls back upon old times with decided gusto and effect. But she doesn't tell anybody what she's going to do.
Within two years, Lola Montex began showing the tertiary effects of syphilis, the last contribution to the marriage from Patrick Hurdy Hull, and her body began to waste away. Lola, 39 years old, suffered a massive stroke and died alone in poverty on January 7th 1861. She is buried in the Greenwood cemetery, in Brooklyn. The marker simply reads “Mrs. Eliza Gilbert / Died 7 January 1861.”
You can read Lola’s own writing, The Arts of Beauty, Secrets of a Lady's Toilet: With Hints to Gentlemen on the Art of Fascinating, Lectures of Lola Montez, Anecdotes of love, and Timeless Beauty: Advice to Ladies & Gentlemen. Lola’s restored house at 248 Mill St in Grass Valley is now a registered California Historical Landmark. Mount Lola, Nevada County and the Sierra Nevada’s north of interstate 80 highest point at 9,148 feet, is named in her honour as well as two lakes you can find in the Tahoe National Forest. Named the Upper and Lower Lola Montez Lakes.
Now, let’s talk about song lyrics, you many have heard this famous lyric. "Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets". "Whatever Lola Wants” was written by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross for the 1955 musical play Damn Yankees. The saying was inspired by Lola Montez. Or what about “Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl, With yellow feathers in her hair and a dress cut down to there", even Copacabana by Barry Manilow was inspired by our girl Lola.
In light of the BLM movement and the incredible change we are seeing, I would like to mention a quote said by Marian Anderson. "No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger than its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise."
Until recently, historians and the public have dismissed "conflict history," and important elements that are absolutely necessary for understanding American history have sometimes been downplayed or virtually forgotten. Lola constructed an identity as a “Spanish dancer” when Anglo Americans in California swayed between appreciating aspects of non-white cultures and rejecting them. If we do not incorporate racial and ethnic conflict in the presentation of the American experience, we will never understand how far we have come and how far we have to go. No matter how painful, we can only move forward by accepting the truth. I am Andrea Anderson, thank you for taking the time to listen today, let’s meet again when we meet Lola’s neighbor, the little irish girl in Grass Valley, next time, on “Queens of the Mines.
Queens of the Mines was written, produced and narrated by me, Andrea Anderson. The theme song, In San Francisco Bay is by DBUK, You can find the links to their music, tour dates and merchandise, as well as links to all our social media and research links at queensofthemines.com
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