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Digital Collections : Macauley's Theatre Collection

Macauley's Theatre Collection

About the Collection

Macauley's Theatre opened on October 13, 1873 at 329 W. Walnut (now Muhammad Ali) Street in downtown Louisville, Kentucky. It was owned and operated by Bernard (Barney) Macauley, who, along with his wife, Rachel Johnson Macauley, also performed in the theater's resident stock company. His younger brother, "Colonel" John T. Macauley (1846-1915), managed the box offices of theaters in Cincinnati and Indianapolis before settling in Louisville with his wife, Annie Amelia Kirlin Macauley, and their two daughters, Rachel and Mary Margaret. John took over management of the theater in September 1879, and bought it from his brother when Bernard fell into financial difficulties. In keeping with nationwide trends in theatrical productions, the resident stock company was replaced by traveling artists, who promoted their performances by sending portraits to the theaters they would visit, to be included in advertisements and press releases. Often they would autograph or inscribe their portraits to John Macauley or other theater employees, who would hang them on the walls of the theater's lobby.

John ran the theater until his death, of cancer, on November 3, 1915. His wife took over after that, but movies had already begun to displace live entertainment, and Annie Macauley negotiated its sale to the Starks Brothers in 1925. The theater was razed after the final performance on August 29, 1925, and the Starks Building now stands in its place.

After the theater was razed, Boyd Martin, drama critic for the Louisville Courier-Journal and director of the University of Louisville's University Players and Little Theatre Company, found a new home for the gallery of photographs at the Belknap Playhouse on the University of Louisville campus. Upon Martin's retirement in 1955, ownership of the photos was transferred to the University, with the approval of the Macauley family through John's daughter, Mary Macauley Smith. In 1966, the photos were removed from the Playhouse due to fears of vandalism, theft, and deterioration. When the Photographic Archives became an official department of the University Libraries in 1967, the Macauley pictures became a part of the Archives' collections. A Committee to Restore the Macauley Collection was formed in 1970, which fundraised to microfilm all of the photographs and produce copy negatives and prints of a select number.

The photographs, taken by an international sampling of theatrical and portrait photographers, almost always in a studio setting, primarily feature actors and actresses from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. They document the cultural history of Louisville and of theater during this time period, because in the fifty-two years that Macauley's Theatre existed, Louisville was a major theatrical center, and Macauley's its major theatre.

Macauley's Theatre Collection, accession number 1980.20 in Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, consists of 1527 photographic prints (mostly albumen and gelatin silver) of various sizes, plus approximately 100 non-photographic items such as handbills and clippings. Related collections in Photographic Archives include theater programs; posters; an albumen print (by Rockwood) of a sketch (by W.W. Scott) of Edwin Booth as Hamlet, November 13, 1870 (Accession Number 1991.13); and copy negatives of portraits of "Colonel" Macauley as a young man and of his wife (Accession Number 1991.19).

The digital presentation of the Macauley's Theatre Collection features 1493 items, two of which are compound objects, for a total of 1507 digital images. Twenty duplicate images in the physical collection were not included, and the handbills and clippings have not been scanned at this time.

About the Cataloging

Although the metadata records for this collection closely follow the data dictionary (PDF) used for all Digital Collections, a few modifications were made to accommodate the unique complexities of these materials:

  • Photographic studios -- When a studio operating under an individual's name was known to have employed other photographers, the studio is identified as a "Contributor." Individual photographers are identified as "Creators." Also, when the location of the photographer's studio is known, it has been included in the Description field rather than the Location Depicted field, which has been reserved for depictions of an actual place, not of a studio interior.
  • Date Original -- The date of an inscription was often used to date the photographs, although the portraits had to have been taken earlier. Date ranges are based on the subject's lifespan, the approximate dates a particular photographic process or format was in use, and/or the dates of operation of the photographer's studio. Online sources such as Library of Congress Name Authorities, the Internet Broadway Database, and the Thesaurus of Graphic Materials II I: Genre and Physical Characteristic Terms were used to estimate dates.
  • Productions -- A Production field was added to document, whenever possible, the performance represented by the portrait and/or the occasion for its inscription. If the performer is depicted in character for a particular role in a play, even if that play was never performed at Macauley's Theatre, the play is named in the Production field. If a performer was known to have performed at Macauley's in a variety of plays over a date range, those dates listed in the same field. Thanks to John Jacob Weisert's invaluable Last night at Macauley's: A checklist, 1873-1925 (Louisville, Ky., 1950), some performers have been definitively linked to a play performed at Macauley's on a particular date or date range.
  • Titles - Titles printed on the portraits have been faithfully transcribed in the Title field. Those supplied by the cataloger have been noted at the end of the Description field.

Conditions of Use

The University of Louisville welcomes fair use of this website and its contents. If you wish to publish, broadcast, or publicly display these materials, please notify Archives and Special Collections. In addition, it is your responsibility to determine and satisfy copyright or other use restrictions, which may include paying fees for commercial use. For further information about permissions, use, and ordering reproductions, see Order Reproductions, or contact Archives and Special Collections, University of Louisville.

To cite an image from this collection, please use the format:

[Image Number], Macauley's Theatre Collection, 1980.20, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

To cite the digital version, add its Reference URL (found by following the link in the header above the digital file).


Many university faculty, staff, students, and volunteers have contributed to the preservation and documentation of the Macauley's Theatre Collection. Thanks to funding from Judge and Mrs. Macauley Smith (the grandson and granddaughter-in-law of John T. Macauley), Pamela Graves embarked on rehousing, copying, and indexing the images in 1980, under the supervision of David Horvath.

The images were originally scanned for the Kentucky Digital Library in 2004. Additional scans were completed by Rachel I. Howard in 2008. All images were scanned as 600 ppi TIFFs in 24-bit RGB color. Rachel I. Howard batch converted the TIFF images to JPEGs of "best" quality and resized to 600 pixels in the longest dimension using IrfanView version 3.98, then uploaded the JPEGs to CONTENTdm Digital Collection Management Software version 4.3.

Alex E. Mobley began the process of standardizing the metadata in 2007. Rachel I. Howard completed this effort after conducting additional research to identify names and biographical and performance information for many of the images.

Terri L. Holtze designed the HTML pages. Dwayne K. Buttler, J.D., provided copyright advice.


Pingree, Melvin A. Photograph Album, circa 1865-1866. Series 75/31/27. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Archives. (accessed April 10, 2012).

Reading, Sarah Alexandra Jane. "The Macauley Collection of Theatrical Photographs." Library Review 38 (November 1988): 3-21.

Weisert, John Jacob. Last night at Macauley's: A checklist, 1873-1925. Louisville, Ky., 1950.

West wall of auditorium. Image donated by Kurt X. Metzmeier
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