Fair 20-year-old Jennie Cramer may have washed up dead, poisoned, and raped on the beach at Savin Rock back in 1881. But she is beautiful, alive and well again in the visual and musical art that debuted at the Institute Library.
Songs and visual art commemorating one of the most notorious crimes of Victorian New England—the rapscallion scions of the department store Malley family were found not guilty after a one-hour jury deliberation—are part of Sounding New Haven: Music Scenes, 1840-1940.
The show on the third-floor gallery of the Chapel Street membership-library contains old photographs, posters, sheet music, announcements, and pamphlets. It includes a whole section dealing with the Cramer saga, characterized as “the Elm City Tragedy,” that gripped New Haven and the country in the summer of 1881.
A musical opening drew 50 people Wednesday night. The crowd included Yale American studies graduate students who mounted the exhibition. The show runs through Jan. 26 during library hours.
One of the students’ professors, Laura Wexler, said after the performance: “This library existed in New Haven when these songs were being sung. It’s never seemed to be more [than now] that music was a time machine.”
Among the six songs, performed with intensity and sincerity by baritone Taylor Ward and pianist John Muniz, was “Found Drifting with the Tides.”
The still-affecting 1882 ballad tells us how New Haven’s treasure is drifting with the tides and how finally Death has claimed her for his bride.
The show also contains images of iconic locations and personalities from New Haven’s music scenes throughout the decades from before the Civil War to just before World War Two.
These include the Loomis Temple of Music at 839 Chapel, along with images of the the turn of the century vaudeville and movie theaters impressario Sylvester Poli.