The Haverhill Citizens Hall of Fame will add a new member to its illustrious list of sons and daughters of Haverhill who achieved fame and had a significant impact beyond the borders of their hometown.
Haverhill native and vaudeville star Maggie Cline will become the 40th person honored since the Hall of Fame’s establishment in 1985.
Membership includes such notables as poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier, Archie comic strip creator Bob Montana, movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, and Macy’s Department Store founder Rowland H. Macy — to name a just a few.
Jack Lynch, a member of the Hall of Fame Committee, advocated for Cline's selection. He researched her life and learned that she was born in Haverhill to Irish immigrant parents on Jan. 1, 1857.
Coincidentally, Cline was born two years after Hall of Fame member Gert Swazey, who became famous for her four-horse, bareback riding circus act that included a leap through a ring of fire. Both Cline and Swazey died the same year, 1934. Swazey was destitute at the time of her death while Cline was living quite well in New Jersey, Lynch said.
Cline's family lived on Essex Street then Hilldale Avenue and later on Lancaster Street. Her father, Patrick Cline, who fought in the Civil War, was a peddler, and later a shoe factory foreman. Her story inspired the naming of the popular Wingate Street eatery, The Peddler's Daughter.
Early in life, Cline also worked in the shoe shops, but quickly determined that working in a factory was not the life for her. She left Haverhill for Boston at 16, and her first appearance in a New York theater was in the early 1880s, Lynch said.
Cline became the headliner at Tony Pastor’s 14th Street Theater, which shared the same building as Tammany Hall, the center of Irish political control of New York City in that era.
Vaudeville was becoming the principal form of entertainment for the immigrant working classes of the late 19th century, and Maggie Cline was the darling of the masses, Lynch learned from his research.
According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Cline was a "singer whose vigorous persona and hearty performances of Irish songs made her an immensely popular figure in the heyday of the vaudeville stage."
Cline's many musical hits included "Down Went McGinty," "Slide, Kelly, Slide" and "Choke Him, Casey, Choke Him," but her signature song was "Throw Him Down, McCloskey," about a bare-knuckles prizefight.
As Cline sang, she shadowboxed; the audience sang along to the chorus, and stagehands would bang garbage cans together, creating such a clamor that passersby thought there was a riot inside the theater.
The New York Herald Tribune referred to Cline as "the supreme Irish comedienne of the nation," and recorded in her obituary that she sang McCloskey "not less than 6,000 times, not only for the gallery boys, but for Grover Cleveland, William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt."
The stars of vaudeville said Cline was "a legend in show business history and the first of vaudeville’s great lady singing stars." She was dubbed "The Irish Queen" and, because of her physique, "The Brunhilde of the Bowery."
For most of Cline's long career, she performed at Pastor’s. In one of her frequent visits to Haverhill, she performed at the Academy of Music, which was the biggest theater in Haverhill from the late 1800s to the early 1900s
Cline went into semi-retirement in 1907, and fully retired in 1917. She died in Red Bank, New Jersey, on June 11, 1934, and is buried in Brooklyn, New York.
The induction ceremony will be held at 4 p.m. on Saturday, May 11, at The Peddler’s Daughter, 45 Wingate St.
Master of Ceremonies will be Jay Cleary, a local historian and attorney.
Jack Lynch will discuss Cline's vaudeville career. Ruth Cranton will appear as Maggie, singing "McCloskey," and Paul Prue will perform several other Cline favorites. Admission is free, but donations will be accepted. Seating is limited.