Voice from the past, by Joe Ganger
One of Colon’s time-faded celebrities was a man by the name of Lew Dockstader. Run the name on the Internet and you will find quite a bit. Lew Dockstader was a singer, comedian, and Vaudeville star, best known as a blackface minstrel show performer in the late 19th century and early years of the 20th century. I found that he worked with the likes of Eddie Foy and Al Jolson.
After playing the Hill Opera House here in Colon, Lew and his wife decided they liked the town of Colon and made it their home. Lew died in 1924.
Dockstader performed both as a solo act and leading a popular Minstrel troupe. Various popular entertainers of the era performed with Dockstader’s Minstrels, including Will Oakland, and the most famous being young Al Jolson, c. 1906 – 1909. Dockstader appeared on film in a number of comedy shorts from 1905 – 1907 and in the title role in the 1914 feature silent film “Dan”. He recorded some songs on Columbia Records.
Between 1901 and 1912 Eddie Foy Sr. played the leading comic roles in a series of musical comedies in New York City and on tour.
Between 1910 and 1913, he formed a family vaudeville act, and “Eddie Foy and The Seven Little Foys” quickly turned into a national institution.
Eddie was only a few years short of sixty, an advanced age for a performer, and he found himself to be one of the oldest active comic actors on the popular stage. Only Lew Dockstader (born the same year as Eddie) and Fred Stone (born in 1873) had been performing as long as Eddie. The new generations of comedians were starting to be known; among them Charlie Chaplin, W. C. Fields, Leon Errol, and Willie Howard, had been born in the 1880s, and another group of young comedians, born in the 1890s, such Fred Allen, Jack Benny, the Marx Brothers, Eddie Cantor, and Ed Wynn, were only a few short years away from being vaudeville headliners themselves.
In spite of dire preditions for New York Theatres in 1921, the Foys obtained a contract with the Proctor circuit to play for six weeks in the New York area.
Signed with them were old friend Lew Dockstader, Hugh Herbert, Jack Benney, Lillian Roth and the four Mars Brothers.
Sheet music cover “When Miss Maria Johnson Marries Me”, 1896.
Vaudeville star Lew Dockstader in 1902, wearing blackface and top hat, standing in front of a theater backdrop.
Vaudeville Poster, 1908. This was probably a parody reference to a William Howard Taft presidential campaign poster.
Lew Dockstader (1856 – 1924). This photo is significant for several reasons. First of all, it tells me that Mel Melson was collecting autographed pictures for a long time before he came to Colon in 1940. Lew had appeared at the Hill Opera House in Colon and decided to live in Colon. We don’t know exactly when.
“John Barleycorn” is an English folksong. The character of John Barleycorn in the song is a personification of the important cereal crop barley and of the alcoholic beverages made from it, beer and whisky. In the song, John Barleycorn is represented as suffering attacks, death and indignities that correspond to the various stages of barley cultivation, such as reaping and malting.
I suspect that the reference to the death of John Barleycorn is refering to the Volstead Act or Prohibition, which became law on October 28, 1919.