Annie Dean's Dream of Death

10:41 AM

This will be a brief item, and a bit incidental, in the sense that the main character in it was not directly involved in Omaha theater. But it is such an odd tale that I would be remiss in omitting it.

First, the main character: Her name was Annie Dean, and she was the half-sister of Julia Dean Hayne, who starred in the very first theatrical production ever mounted in Omaha, produced in the summer of 1860. The play was held in the Herndon House, a rather fancy local hotel built on 9th and Farnam Street in 1858 that played host to both Abraham Lincoln and  Ulysses S. Grant. It was fancy enough to serve lobsters and oysters, which were hard to come by in Omaha.

Nonetheless, the Herndon House did not have a proper stage. The performance was held in the dining room, and the hotel borrowed bolts of muslin from a nearby store to make curtains. Nobody seems to remember what the show was, but it was a touring production. In fact, Julia Dean Hayne was a fairly accomplished stage actress of her era, a member of a theatrical dynasty, and she toured extensively in the American south and west. There is a good chance the show that night was actually James Sheridan Knowles’ “The Hunchback,” telling of a country girl in London. This was the play that made Hayne’s reputation 14 years earlier, and it was a play she often took on tour.

By the way, having a hotel as a venue and borrowed muslin sheets as a curtain was probably quite familiar to Hayne. Her tours took her to some pretty tough places in the west, including mining camps, and so her venues were often makeshift.

But enough about Hayne. As I said, this story is about her half-sister Annie Dean. Annie was married to a theater man, after a fashion. His name was Colonel John Y. Clopper, a Civil War veteran who ended up co-owning and doing theatrical promotion for the Academy of Music, Omaha’s first dedicated theater space, which would eventually become the People’s Theater.

I feel that we have established Annie’s Dean’s theatrical bona fides, so on to the odd tale I mentioned. In the spring of 1887, Annie Dean, now a widow, resided in Denver. One night, she had a strange dream. I will quote the Omaha Bee from the time:

“[S]he saw her approaching end, saw her body laid in the coffin, and the scene impressed itself so vividly on her mind that she observed the dress in which she was clothed, the manner in which her hair was arranged, and even the ornaments in her collar.”

Annie was convinced that the dream meant she was about to die. Her friends tried to comfort her, but she insisted that, were she to die, she should be laid to rest in exactly the way she saw it in her dream.

Two weeks after the dream, Annie died. Her friends did as she wished, located a dress like the one from the dream, arranging her hair as she had seen it, ornamenting her collar, and even setting her head in the position Annie had dreamed.

About the author

Max Sparber is a playwright and historian who lives in Omaha, Nebraska.