On this day in Duluth in 1906, Sara Bernhardt—considered the greatest actor in the world at the time—performed in Duluth in a tent. She starred in a production of “Camille,” a popular play adapted from Alexander Dumas the Younger’s novel The Lady of the Camellias and the inspiration of Verdi’s opera “La Traviata.” Bernhard played the lead role of Marguerite Gautier, a tubercular courtesan and mistress to a number of wealthy men—never mind that Bernhardt was 62 years old at the time. Bernhardt had contacted the Duluth Commercial Club earlier in the month, hoping to find a “suitable stage” for her production as she travelled between performance in Madison, Wisconsin, and Winnipeg, Manitoba. After turning down offers by the Temple Rink and the Third Regiment Armory because of limited seating, Bernhard finally settled on an idea by local promoter Tom Condon: a massive tent raised along London Road at 12th Avenue East (site of today’s Rose Garden within Leif Erikson Park) that would accommodate an audience of 8,000. Advance tickets were sold by mail to people in the eastern Dakotas, northern Michigan, Wisconsin, and as far south in Minnesota as Hinkley. The day after the performance, the Duluth News Tribune headlines rang out, “Big crowd sees peerless Sarah,” and “Throng of Duluth People Brave Gusty Day in Chilly Tent to Greet Bernhardt.” Of Duluth, Bernhardt said that while she was “very cold” during her performance and that while the Duluth weather was cold and inhospitable— she was concerned for the women in the audience—her welcome to the Zenith City was warm.
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