Here are some of our favorite Menken photos:
Adah in her famous Mazeppa body stocking costume.
‘Twas after dread Pultowa’s day, When fortune left the royal Swede – Around a slaughtered army lay, No more to combat and to bleed. The Power and glory of the war, Faithless as their vain votaries, men, Had passed to the triumphant Czar, And Moscow’s walls were safe again – Until a day more dark and drear, And a more memorable year, Should give to slaughter and to shame, A mightier host and haughtier name; A greater wreck, a deeper fall, A shock to one – a thunderbolt to all.
Adah as Mazeppa, the warrior prince.
Menken first appeared on the stage in New York City in March 1859, but it was not until she opened in Albany, New York, in a dramatic adaptation of Lord Byron’s Mazeppa, in June 1861, that she achieved lasting recognition. Appearing in the play’s climactic scene apparently (though not actually) nude and strapped to a running horse, she created a great sensation.
Adah began her career as a dancer. During the 1870s The Chicago Tribune admired her “youth, beauty and wonderful flow of spirits, [her] dash and abandon of manner.” The Detroit Free Press exulted that “the balmy days of theatricals were revived last evening, and for the first time in years the house was crowded from pit to dome. . . . The beautiful Adah carried [the audience] by storm.” She performed in light, quick-change pieces and the Utica Herald praised her acting, charm, and looks. She starred in Lola Montez, which she had written as a tribute to the famous “Spanish dancer.”
Adah’s beauty and innocent charm captured the hearts of audiences of men and women.
Her heart-felt poetry was admired by her friend and mentor Walt Whitman.
Walt Whitman (May 31, 1819 – March 26, 1892) an American poet, essayist, journalist, and humanist.
Adah contributed poems and essays on Judaism to Isaac Mayer Wise’s weekly newspaper, The Israelite. She saw herself as a latter-day Deborah, advocating for Jewish communities around the world. She urged the Jews of Turkey to rebel against oppression and place their faith in the coming of a messiah who would lead them to restore Jerusalem.
Although world-renown because of her appearance in Mazeppa, Adah’s great desire was to be known as a serious poet. She built friendships among an international literary elite including Charles Dickens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Alexandre Dumas the Younger, Algernon Swinburne and George Sand, godmother to Menken’s second child.
Adah takes on Sensational Theatrical Roles
The Nude may be Fake
Two important men in her life; Ed James, her publicist (left), and her husband Heavy Weight Boxing Champ John Heenan “the Love of her Life”
Mazeppa in London, 1864
After her baby dies and Heenen denies their marriage, Adah is penniless and desperate. She attempts suicide, but recovers her spirits with Mazeppa.
Beauty and Talent Triumph
Adah wins world fame, fortune and important admirers.
Adah plays the winning hand from New York to San Francisco, Gold-rush Nevada to London and Paris