Back in the Day:

Trail of tragedy leads to success on the stage

By KELLY SULLIVAN
Posted 6/3/20

By KELLY SULLIVAN On Oct. 8, 1891, as Mary Brenner lay dying from the effects of ingesting the pesticide Paris Green, she made a final statement - her five-day-old daughter, also named Mary, was not the child of her husband, Gustav Brenner. Gustav was a

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Back in the Day:

Trail of tragedy leads to success on the stage

FOLLOWING HER DREAMS: Sophie, seen at left, performs during an unidentified stage show in this 1920 photo from The Sun, a newspaper in New York.
FOLLOWING HER DREAMS: Sophie, seen at left, performs during an unidentified stage show in this 1920 photo from The Sun, a newspaper in New York.
(Submitted photo)
Posted

On Oct. 8, 1891, as Mary Brenner lay dying from the effects of ingesting the pesticide Paris Green, she made a final statement – her five-day-old daughter, also named Mary, was not the child of her husband, Gustav Brenner.

Gustav was a 33-year-old German immigrant who had come to America in 1890 and was employed as a silversmith. He and Mary had married on June 19, 1891.

Two days after Mary’s death, her baby was brought to the State Farm and remained there until her own death on April 14, 1892, at the age of six months. She was laid to rest at the State Farm cemetery, otherwise known as Cranston Cemetery No. 60.

Gustav remarried, on July 10, 1894, to 19-year-old Sophie Crecelius, the daughter of a Providence upholsterer. The couple had two children together – Emma, born in 1897, and Sophie, born in 1898. The family lived on Hospital Street in Providence, and Gustav was working as a die sinker in a jewelry shop. By 1910, they had relocated to a home on Point Street.

Later that year, on May 2, Gustav ingested cyanide of potassium and fell dead at the foot of Thurbers Avenue. Treatment he had received in the past for mental derangement hadn’t been enough to keep him from committing suicide, just as his first wife had.

Gustav’s widow remarried on Sept. 21, 1912, to 36-year-old German-born Paul Hesse, a lace mill superintendent. His wife, Hilda, had died in 1911, leaving him with two young daughters, Marion and Edith. The couple and their four combined children settled in Pawtucket, and Emma and the younger Sophie, now both teenagers, began working in the lace mill as weavers.

By the age of 21, the younger Sophie had moved to Bronx, New York, and was residing with her cousin Carl Brenner and his wife, Anna, on Stillwell Avenue. She had become an actress on the New York stage.

In 1920, she appeared in a new musical comedy called “The New Dictator.” Later that year, she performed in “The Half Moon” at the National Theater in Washington. In 1921, she was part of the ensemble in the production of “Love Letter” at the Globe Theatre in New York. During that production, she shared the stage with Fred Astaire.

On Aug. 24, 1922, Sophie married Frederick Uthoff, a publicity writer. They later moved to Philadelphia, living at Oaklynne Apartments while she worked as a church singer. By 1937, she had become well known as “The Folk Song Lady” and was a regular feature on WIP Radio Broadcasting in Philadelphia, her melodious voice being carried over the airwaves.

Sophie died in Pawtucket on July 2, 1983. With a trail of tragedy behind her, she managed to follow her dreams, find love and success, and return home to Rhode Island – a life well-lived.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.

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