Monday, October 4, 2010

Edward Furlong Disappears at Ecorse Medicine Show

On a Wednesday night in late August of 1932, 20-year-old Ypsilanti day laborer Edward Furlong vanished.

By Friday, his disappearance had reached the Ypsilanti Daily Press, which reported that his relatives had last seen him heading towards downtown that night. Police questioning determined that he met up with two men in a cigar store and headed off to see a medicine show on Ecorse Road.

The Ecorse show may have been held outdoors under a tent or on a portable stage. Aside from the pitchman hawking his cure, medicine shows included a variety of performers. According to one website, "[The shows] developed their own unique brand of variety out of a curious mixture of vaudeville, burlesque, dime museum material, and the minstrel show.

The website continues, "A standard middle-sized medicine show company of the teens and early ‘20’s might include a lecturer-manager, a sketch team (both of whom also worked singly), a song and dance man, a pianist, and a blackface comedian. Others added a contortionist, a trapeze performer, a magician, or juggler. In 1920, Dr. Heber Becker advertised for a typical vaudeville company:

"Blackface Singing, Dancing Comedians; must play banjo and guitar. Lady Performer; must sing and dance. Lady to handle and take care of snakes. One good Sketch Team. All people must work in acts and sign contract for season’s work."

" . . . A typical medicine show might last two hours and was made up of eight or 10 selections, including two or three lectures and their accompanying pitches. Most began with a banjo solo or two designed to settle the audience or a song and dance number featuring the whole cast. Frequently, the second item on the bill was a rapid-fire exchange of jokes and stock bits between the blackface comedian and the straightman. Next came more music or a specialty number-mind-reading, magic, trick shooting, perhaps a sword swallower or ventriloquist-followed by the first item pitched, often soap, since it was relatively inexpensive and could be used to put a tight-fisted audience in the mood to buy more expensive tonics and laxatives that appeared later. Another act or two followed, usually a comic bit and a musical act or specialty number, and then the second lecture and sale. Finally came another bit or specialty number, the prize candy sake [sale?], and the traditional medicine show afterpiece, almost invariable a blackface act featuring Jake, the straightman, and a ghost."

The Ecorse show was likely a free entertainment, attractive to some in that Depression year who couldn't afford to attend a show or movie downtown.

That August day long ago, it lured Edward Furlong from his home on Hamilton Street, into thin air.


Dusty D said...

He seems to have returned eventually, though.

There's one listing on a genealogy site of unknown reliability for an Edward Furlong born November 18, 1909 (age matches 1930 census) and died in 48197 in April of 1972. Likely the same person but unconfirmed.

T-1000 said...

He obviously traveled to the future to portray John Connor in Terminator 2...

Dusty D said...

No, NO, silly, that's a different Ed Furlong as well you know. :)