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Notes from the Opera House 10/15/17

Halloween Special: 

Dashing Dog Boys of Yore
Kathy King Johnson

A long time ago, a man, or he was said to be half man, lived in Cheboygan. “Doggie” was covered in hair and could run around all four legs, much to the delight of some of our not so stellar citizens. Sometimes they got him drunk just to watch his antics, but in general Doggie lived in the quiet logging town of Cheboygan, worked in the woods and minded his own business.

On April 14, 1877, Doggie waltzed up to the court and with an air of injured innocence. With an honest expression as one could wish to see, he said, “I was not drunk.”

Justice Sammons meekly made no reply and listened to the evidence. Finally he said, “You were drunk about $2.00 worth, and costs.”

Alas, Doggie had no money but he promised good behavior. He would to go to the woods and drive a team of horses pulling out lumber until he had money enough to pay.

Doggie may have had hypertrichosis or the Ambras syndrome. It comes from a gene called “the werewolf gene,” so rare it strikes one in a billion and may have inspired the legend of the werewolf, or lupe garou.

Many of the people with hypertrichosis travelled in circuses and other shows. One such character was JoJo the Dog Faced Boy, who was picked up by PT Barnum. Well read and articulate, JoJo, whose real name was Feodor Jeftichew, spoke four different languages.
Hollywood created multiple werewolves based on the images of JoJo. Chewbacka from Star Wars (whose name is said derive from Jeftichew) and the beast from Beauty and the Beast both bear a resemblance to JoJo. Annette Funicello sang a campy song called “JoJo the Dog Face Boy” that may have inspired the movie “Teen Wolf" with Michael J. Fox

Do you remember the song “Dog Man of Michigan?” Perhaps it was Cheboygan’s Doggie seen in the woods south of here in 1877. Legend has it that the Dog Man reappears every 10 years in a year ending with 7. Do the math.

Listen to it here, but not at night when you are alone:

In 1888 Doggie met a cruel demise. He was back in jail for drunkeness when the wooden Opera House and the jail below it burned to the ground. The town marshall, Owen Murphy, could not reach him in time. Poor Doggie. Sometimes at night when the Opera House is closed and the cold wind blows, you might still hear him howl.




Notes from the Opera House 10/9/17

Kathy King Johnson

Hold the presses—I was wrong!!!


That’s never happened before. Do you remember in my first blog when I talked about the ponies and how excited I was to learn that there were ponies on stage at the Opera House in the early 1900s for the play “Uncle Tom’s Cabin?” And my devastation when I learned that “ponies” was a slang term for chorus girls and there were no ponies.

Friday I took the tour of the Cheboygan History Museum and found the Opera House Showcase. And what did I find but a show bill from 1892 entitled “Professor D.M. Bristol’s Wonderful Horse Show.”

I have never been so happy to be wrong before! Live horses on the Opera House stage. And ponies. And even a mule!

After a parade through town, they pulled each horse up with a sling and a hoist to the loading dock. Prof. Bristol’s animals were said to be trained with love and kindness, never force. They went about their jobs willingly. His “perfectly educated horses” performed tricks and routines on stage while his orchestra played in the orchestra pit. Their opening act was called “An Evening Out,” and the horses took his hat and coat, brought in tables and chairs and sat him down to eat.

His horses were trained in higher math, and his irascible pony Mattie put many scholars to shame. If you want more information on equine intelligence and how these horses learned math, I was interviewed a few years ago for this podcast about Clever Hans, said to be the most intelligent horse of the time.

Professor Bristol's mustang named Hornet imitated a rocking horse and jumped rope like a school girl. A  John Sanborn, swung in a swing. His mule Denver performed in many acts with almost human intelligence, bowing, kneeling, sitting or lying down on command.

The show ended with a grand quadrille at liberty, a stage full of horses marching around the stage doing maneuvers in tandem, with military precision, no riders on their backs, obeying imperceptible commands by Professor Bristol. Children at the matinee got free pony rides. Just imagine twenty two horses and ponies and mules on stage at one time, the “Cavalia” of its time, at the Opera House.
You may be worried that every post I write is going to be about horses. It’s true I’m like this Tom Petty spoof (may he rest in peace):

Never fear. Next week I won’t write about horses. I will write about dogs. Well, not exactly dogs, but you will see….






Notes from the Opera House 9/30/17

Annie Oakley at the Cheboygan Opera House
By Kathy King Johnson

Did you know Annie Oakley played the Opera House? Annie was the world’s most famous sharp shooter. She was also an amazing horseback rider, famous for her marksmanship while standing up (or lying down) on a galloping horse. As a 15 year old, she beat her future husband, Frank Butler, in a shooting match. They hit the road together, touring, until joining Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show from 1885 to 1901.

In 1901, in North Carolina, the Wild West Show train collided head on with another in one of North Carolina’s worst train wrecks. Butler carried her from the wreckage, paralyzed and badly injured. It is said her long, dark hair turned white overnight. But Oakley recovered and left the Wild West Show for the theater, touring in a show called “The Western Girl.”

I am not sure whether Oakley played the Opera House on tour when she first met Butler or later in “The Western Girl.” When I find out more, I will pass it along to you. They were able to shoot indoors using glass balls and blanks. Thomas Edison filmed a performance in 1884, and you can watch it here!

One of Oakley’s most amazing feats was her commitment to teach every woman to shoot, “to see every woman know how to handle guns as naturally as they know how to handle babies." In her travels, she taught over 15,000 women to shoot.

Imagine the excitement in boom town, logging era Cheboygan, when Annie Oakley came to town in her buckskins and her boots, gun toting, horse riding, woman of the west. I bet women and girls turned out in droves, put down their parasols and hiked up their skirts to climb the 47 steps of the Opera House for the show. What an amazing role model for the girls of Cheboygan.

Annie lived a long and happy life, and when she died, the love of her life, Frank Butler, stopped eating and passed away 18 days later.

To this day in the theater, complimentary tickets are named after Annie Oakley. Because of the hole punched in them, they look like the playing cards she shot as one of her tricks, and so they are called Oakleys.





 Notes from the Opera House 9.8.17

Kathy King Johnson

It’s my second week as Executive Director of the Opera House. The roof and the ducts need work: chronic leaks and the air conditioner and heat don’t really work on the north side. We place buckets on the stage when the north winds bring in rain. This turned into a flood over Labor Day when a rusty pipe broke, water pouring into Police Chief Jones’ Office. That’s bad. I’ve made a commitment to fix the infrastructure and the roof. Our parents and grandparents did not raise $1.6 million in the 80s to restore the Opera House for nothing. It’s our job to take care of it. I am working on some grants, and I will need your help. Be prepared.

The Labor Day raffle during the State Street Bridge Walk was great. It was my first State Street Bridge Walk, although I walked the Mackinaw once as a child. I prefer this. Three hundred and some friends and neighbors turned out during a lull in the rains. They brought their dogs! Next year I will bring my Corgi, Josey. I’m an animal lover, as you’ll see. We were thrilled to give the $10,000 grand prize to Pat Esther-Schmidt, owner of Pat’s Posey Patch. She has one of the most beautiful flower gardens in Cheboygan. Check out Pat’s Posey Patch on Facebook for your gardening needs.

Switchback is returning to the Opera House on Sept. 23. They are an American folk band with an Irish soul, trained by one of the best Celtic singers in the world. I’ve not seen them live, but I watched them on Youtube. It’s an easy listening blend of folk, rock, country and Irish. Their version of “Danny Boy” will bring you to tears. This would be a great date night and family night. I’m looking forward to seeing you all there.

I’m continuing my research of the history of the Opera House. I was reading a letter from a grandmother to her grandson, telling about the great shows she saw in the Opera House in the 1900s. “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was her favorite, because they brought live bloodhounds to town, and they chased Eliza across the ice on the stage. She loved the bloodhounds. They paraded the dogs through the through the streets with 20 ponies and 15 buck and wing tap dancers But, 20 ponies! Ponies! I love horses but I love ponies more. How cool. I wondered why they needed so many ponies and how they got them all on stage. Maybe they used them to pull the wagons too. Oh, ponies.

Then I found a picture in the Opera House of a play called the Elk’s Tooth, taken around 1914. I looked that up online. It was about two men cast away on a desert island. And guess what? There were 15 ponies! I am getting big dreams to bring more ponies to the Opera House. But wait a second. Why would there be ponies on a desert island? And what are the odds two shows would both use so many little horses? So, I looked it up. Pony is old theater slang for chorus girl. Chorus girls, not ponies. Bummer.

See you at the show, Kathy


In the Beginning: A Town Hall is Needed

From the Northern Tribune

A Town Hall


The Cheboygan Opera House Newsletter


The pricing of tickets for all single performances, sponsored by the Cheboygan Area Arts Council, provides an added benefit for Arts Council members and youth. Ticket pricing is determined by budget – how much a concert costs to present (artist fee, advertising, production costs, lodging, license fees, etc.) and projected income based on a percentage of capacity audience. The previous few years have not been good to us. Costs have gone up while audience numbers have declined. Our new pricing policy, while intended to benefit our members - those of you who faithfully renew your contributions on an annual basis - and hopefully attract more young people to our events – will also help to close the gap between expenses and income of presenting a program. Memberships support our programs and we hope this policy will also provide an incentive for ticket buyers to become members. Youth tickets (students through high school) will be priced at $10.00 on a fairly consistent basis, but is also dependent on the production costs of the artist.

Because of budget cuts and rising costs, many of you will notice that we will be reducing the number of programs we will be presenting. In this current economic climate, we need to be conservative and manage The Opera House in a cost effective manner. Certain programs will remain untouched: our Youth Series which brings in thousands of children from all over Northern Michigan (for a mere $3.00 per child); our Youth Arts Festival, our Dance program; Access to Arts which is generously underwritten by Citizens National Bank; the Missoula Children’s Theatre; our summer camp Scholarships (paid for by funds generated from an endowment bequest by Robert L. Moloney back in 1991 and preserved for that purpose); our Youth Visual Art Show, co-sponsored by Reusch Jewelers; and our support of local school’s Christmas and Spring concerts (for which these schools may use The Opera House free of charge for a one-time use per year).

While our winter subscription series and summer programs may be reduced in number, we pledge to you that the quality of artists and performances will not suffer. They will be announced mid-summer (we can’t let the cat out of the bag until all contracts are signed) but we promise that you will be as excited as we are. You will notice as you read on that I have inserted a survey that we used three years ago. It is still available because we always like to hear from our audience. I hope you will take the time to fill it out and return to us. After all, the Arts Council is here to serve you and we want to listen to your suggestions.


In recent years we have had an extraordinary number of productions, which required many extra stagehands, wardrobe helpers, and meals served. To all of those who have helped backstage, carried in potluck dishes, and also to the various restaurants and grocers who donated a variety of main dishes – a big thank you is due. With your help, we were able to save many hundreds of dollars that it would have cost to provide meals for the many artists, particularly the large groups of artists, which required meals being served. And – the volunteer stagehands are always the last to be thanked. Those of you who attend our touring productions know how elaborate some of the sets are. Who do you think unloads all those big trucks and then puts the sets together? Right – the stagehands. And wardrobe helpers – they take loads of laundry to the Laundromat, they mend costumes when needed, they iron costumes and then they help to dress the artists when quick changes are required. It takes a great deal of work to put a show together and our volunteers behind the scenes make it all happen. Thank You! What would we do without you?


The Cheboygan Area Arts Council is dedicated to the growth and promotion of the arts in our northern Michigan community. In accordance with their Mission, the Arts Council is sponsoring a new Scholarship opportunity, established for graduating high school students planning advanced studies in an arts-related field. Beginning 2006, two $500 scholarships were awarded to students pursuing higher education in the arts at an accredited college in the school year following graduation.  Majors may include, but are not limited to, music, visual arts, dance, theatre arts, and drama. Applicants must be graduating seniors from Cheboygan, Inland Lakes, Mackinaw City, Northern Michigan Christian Academy, Onaway, and Wolverine High Schools, as well as the Cheboygan Area Arts Council Dance Program and Home Schooled students residing in Cheboygan County. The scholarships are announced at graduation and are awarded following the students’ first completed semester of higher education. Recipients must maintain a GPA of 2.5 or higher during the first college semester.

The criteria for selection for this award includes:

  1. Graduation from High School

  2. Acceptance by an accredited institution of higher learning

  3. Interest in the appropriate arts-related majors

  4. Sound educational goals

The initial funding for the Cheboygan Area Arts Council’s College Scholarship Fund came from “Homecoming for the Arts”, a musical extravaganza held at The Opera House in July 2005. All the performers and artists were graduates of Cheboygan County high schools and had utilized their experiences with the arts to enhance their quality of life as they went on to pursue their adult careers. Some went into professions in the arts, but all of them, appreciating their early exposure to a cultural life, continued to use their artistic skills in their adult life. The next "Homecoming for the Arts" date has not yet been decided.  In the meantime, donations for this worthy project can be made to the Cheboygan Area Arts Council, P.O. Box 95, Cheboygan, MI 49721.