Monday, August 18, 2014

Costumer Matt Lockwood and His "Museum" of Curiosities

by Kelli Huggins, Education Coordinator

In my last blog I told the story of Henry Clum, the early meteorologist and "weather prophet."  Well, this week I'm going to continue our examination of Elmira's more eccentric figures by discussing Matt Lockwood, Clum's best friend.  Matt Lockwood stole the aellograph out of Binghamton after Clum's death and then donated it to the museum, but there is so much more to his story than that.  Lockwood was best known as the costumer for the Lyceum Theatre in the late 19th and early 20th century.
Matt Lockwood
Lockwood letterhead from 1897
Matt's parents, John and Electa Lockwood came to Elmira by ox cart from Vermont in 1850.  The Lockwoods had six children, three of whom died as young children (daughter Mary died in infancy, son Hollis drowned in the Chemung River at age 3, and Robert drowned in the Chemung Canal as a small boy).  James Matthew Lockwood, known as Matt, was the eldest child.  His two surviving sisters were Jane and Abbie. 

John Lockwood
Electa Lockwood

Jane Lockwood
Abbie Lockwood
 After the Civil War, young Matt Lockwood and his cousin George Roberts joined the Byron Christy Minstrels, a blackface group.  He later also was affiliated with a local minstrel troupe, the Queen City Minstrels in the 1870s.  While we now recognize how offensive and racist blackface performances are, during the 19th century they were very popular.
Matt Lockwood in blackface during a minstrel performance

Lockwood maintained an affinity for minstrel performances throughout his life and had a large collection of items used by minstrel performers.  Many of these items were donated to the Chemung County Historical Society after Lockwood's death.

Blackface mask used in a minstrel performance, from the Matt Lockwood collection
Large shoe used by George Christy, son of the founder of Christy's Minstrels

Slapsticks used in a minstrel show

After his minstrel days, Lockwood became the costumer and prop manager for the Lyceum Theater.  This is the role for which he was best known.  In this capacity, Lockwood fabricated any props that traveling show groups would need, created costumes, and did set design.  He was also frequently employed by other theater groups in Elmira and surrounding, the Rorick's Glen theater, and Elmira College. 
Interior of the Lyceum Theater
Through all of his work and the personal connections he made with actors (he must have known DeHollis and Valora), Lockwood amassed a large collection of theater objects and ephemera.  His famous costume, prop, and studio rooms were filled from floor to ceiling with theater history.  Among his collection were items like a playbill and cape from Ford's Theater on the night of Abraham Lincoln's assassination.  He also had large collections of firearms, clothing, and handbills. 
Cloak from the Lockwood costume collection
In fact, in the 1890s his expertise and collection of handbills and theater programs once helped the Buffalo police in a criminal investigation.  When a suspect claimed that he was at the theater in Elmira on the night of his alleged crime, Lockwood provided the playbill that proved the show did happen on that night.  The police summoned him to Buffalo, where Lockwood was able to grill the suspect on the details of the plot and stage design.  The suspect provided answers that matched Lockwood's knowledge and was released.
Lockwood's work shop curios at the Lyceum

Lockwood's costume and prop room

Lockwood at work in his studio

Lockwood never married and lived and worked with his sisters for the duration of his life.  He was known for his generosity and had many friends (Henry Clum being one of them).  He served as a volunteer fireman for over 30 years.  At the end of his life, he went mostly blind from cataracts.  Still, his sisters helped him continue his work at the theater.

In 1924, Lockwood fell ill with uremic poisoning and heart trouble.  Even in his final days, he joked with nurses and visitors.  He died on September 11, 1924 at age 76.  Lockwood was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.  The community mourned the loss of their beloved "old costumer."  Dan Quinlan, a friend of Lockwood and well-known local performer, wrote a beautiful tribute that was printed in the Elmira Telegram.  Perhaps my favorite line is, "Matt always believed that a laugh at any time was better than a groan."         



  1. What an interesting man, and how well his story is told.

  2. Matt Lockwood was a cousin of my grandfather, my Great Grandfather was named Hollis, my aunt was nnamed for Abie. I was an actor, now retired, always fascinated by what I knew of Matt, I spoke about him in one of my solo shows. I appeared at Elmira college three times, and unfortunately when I approached the Historic Society, they'd just moved, everything was in storage, so I'm delighted to see these pages. I'm Howard Lucas. email: I'd appreciate any more information or sources.