‘Will ‘o Wind’

Ursula, age 11

At age 11, Ursula was a student at the Egan School of Drama in Los Angeles

Last October, I featured a couple of posts on Ursula’s time at the Egan School of Drama, a private drama school in Los Angeles, beginning when she was 11 years old. What I didn’t know then was that her father, Alfred, had just died the year before.

Perhaps her mother, Clara, hoped that keeping busy with drama school would help Ursula through a difficult period. And keep busy she did. As described in the posts “A Jackpot of Clues, Part 2” and “Ursula’s Teachers: The Best in the West,” Ursula studied acting, voice, singing, dancing and fencing with some of the foremost performing arts instructors of her day.

A while back, I found in my “Mystery Dancer” album a beautiful photo of Ursula from that time. In costume, she is wearing a fringed cape and satiny-looking, tasseled cap. Penciled on the back of the photo is a note saying, “Will O Wind, 11 yrs, picture in front of theatre.” Was that the name of a play she was in? I didn’t know what it meant, and forgot about it for a time — until I came across an article in the Los Angeles Times dated April 26, 1914 (a hundred years ago!).

There she was, in a photograph of a performance of “Wan o’ the Wood“:

“…a pretty child story that brings together the fairy queen, the elfs, the wood-nymphs, the Indian boys and girls, the butterflies and bluebirds, Dan o’ Dreams and Will o’ Wind, not to mention a cinnamon bear.”

Eleven-year-old Ursula (left) in the outdoor play "Wan o' Wood," part of the Los Angeles May Festival 100 years ago

Eleven-year-old Ursula (left) in the outdoor play “Wan o’ Wood,” part of the Los Angeles May Festival 100 years ago

The photo depicts Ursula, in the role of Will o’ Wind, and other cast mates from the Egan school performing a Maypole dance outdoors, in “the beautiful Hooker Gardens…with its wonderland of roses and famous peristyle of climbing flowers.” The acting troupe performed the play three times that day as part of the city’s big May Festival.

While the newspaper picture is of poor quality, it illuminates the cryptic caption and photo of the be-capped and be-caped Ursula I found in the album. Now we can imagine Ursula as the character Will ‘o Wind, dancing and acting in a lovely garden setting with other girls and boys as they relay the story, which, according to the article, was told in pantomime and dialogue, and was “the narrative of all that is wonderful and mysterious about the deepest, most impenetrable part of the forest.”

A Sad Day in L.A.

3-month-old Ursula and her parents

Alfred D. and Clara Cheshire pose with daughter, Ursula, on September 14, 1902, when she was age 3 months, 5 days

Paging through the photo album a while back, I found a newspaper clipping that reported on an upsetting, life altering change for Ursula and her mother, Clara. The timing wasn’t right to share it on Mystery Dancer then, but our story calls for it now.

June 19, 1913 was a sad day for Ursula and Clara. Ursula’s father, Alfred Dudley Cheshire, had been ill for several months and died on that day, just 10 days after Ursula’s 11th birthday. Even though Ursula lived more than a hundred years ago, and I didn’t know her (duh!), I feel so sad for her losing her father at such a tender age.

According to the article that appeared in The Morning Union (a daily newspaper covering Grass Valley and Nevada City, California between 1908 and 1945), Alfred was born in Hamilton, Canada, and emigrated to the United States “when a mere youth.” I know from census records that he was born around 1853 and would have been about 60 years old at the time of his death.

Alfred Dudley Cheshire, husband to Clara Uphoff Cheshire and father to Ursula Cheshire

Alfred Dudley Cheshire, husband to Clara Uphoff Cheshire and father to Ursula Cheshire

Alfred first settled in Michigan and became an expert cabinet maker before relocating to San Francisco in 1830. There, he began a career in undertaking and eventually came to own the California Undertaking Co., which he sold “in splendid advantage” around 1903. Alfred and Clara married in 1899.

The newspaper reports that:

“Everyone who knew Alfred Cheshire esteemed him as a man of the strictest integrity and honorable in every sense of the word. He made friends readily and always retained them.”

The full article appears below. Rest in peace, dear Alfred.