George Broadhurst and the Metropolitan Opera House
Monday, November 10, 2008
The name George Broadhurst is generally associated with the theaters of Chicago, San Francisco or New York. But North Dakota also helped launch the career of the playwright who became internationally renowned for works such as ‘The Mills of the Gods’ and ‘The Man of the Hour,’ starring Douglas Fairbanks.
While managing a Minneapolis theater in 1890, Broadhurst was introduced to George Batchelder, a businessman sitting on the Board of Directors of the Grand Forks Opera House Company. Batchelder convinced Broadhurst to become manager of the newly constructed Metropolitan Opera House in Dakota Territory.
Shortly after his arrival in Grand Forks, Broadhurst learned that the opening attraction was going to be the Emma Abbott Opera Company. They would give three evening and one matinee performance, for which Batchelder had guaranteed them an astonishing $3,000.
Dubious that that amount could even be raised, George Broadhurst later admitted “When I discovered what he had been doing I simply asked when the next train left for Minneapolis. However he persuaded me to stay and make a subscription canvass of the townspeople. He said they had more money than they knew how to hide…” Batchelder’s words proved true.
The new manager first approached Captain Alexander Griggs. Griggs informed Broadhurst that he was the father of Grand Forks. He had witnessed the town’s first christening and first funeral, and therefore he would not miss the first show in the first opera house. To Broadhurst’s utter surprise, Griggs offered $300 for two seats.
Broadhurst next approached William Budge. “What did the Captain give?” Budge demanded of Broadhurst. Hearing the $300 price tag, Budge insisted on matching him. With mounting excitement, Broadhurst returned to Captain Griggs, explaining what Budge had given. Not wanting to be outdone, Griggs announced, “I’ll raise him fifty.”
Besides taking advantage of local rivalries, the new manager developed other successful techniques to sell tickets to the opening show. In a later interview for the New York Times he explained, “I got into a fictitious argument with Batchelder as to whether the first opera should be ‘Aida’ or ‘Martha,’ and we had a voting contest in the morning paper.” The contest generated considerable interest and by the grand opening of the Metropolitan Opera House on this day in 1890, subscription funds totals more that $6,000.
George Broadhurst managed the Grand Forks Metropolitan Opera House and served as the editor of the morning paper for one year before moving to San Francisco and eventually New York.
So what did Captain Griggs think of his $350 seats? As Broadhurst recalled, “After it was all over he came to George and me and said that it was all very grand, but he thought in the next show we’d better have ‘less yod[e]ling and more dancing!’”
Eriksmoen, Curt. Did You Know That…?: 47 Fascinating Stories About People Who Have Lived in North Dakota. Vol. 1: McCleery & Sons Publishing, 2006.
“George Broadhurst Narrates Some Strange Experiences.” The New York Times, December 16, 1906, X1.
“Grand Forks Metropolitan Opera House Collection”, Elwyn B. Robinson Department of Special Collections, Chester Fritz Library, University of Grand Forks http://www.und.nodak.edu/dept/library/Collections/og319.html.