Saturday, June 16, 2012

Lola Montez: Dead or Alive

Beautiful Lola
I've been a fan of Lola Montez for years. A whip-cracking vixen of the nineteenth century, she was a luxuriant weed growing unchecked in the hypercultivated garden of the Victorian era. The moralizing bourgeoisie viewed her as a terrible example of womanhood grown wild and warned their daughters against becoming transgressive rebels lest they suffer the fate of Lola Montez.
Scary Lola

“She has the evil eye and will bring bad luck to whoever links his destiny with hers,” the French novelist Alexandre Dumas Sr. wrote of La Montez.

As any avid student of history might appreciate, I feel that I have a personal relationship with Lola Montez, not just because I've read many biographies about her, but also because my path keeps crossing hers in mysterious ways.

I live in Brooklyn and am within walking distance of Green-Wood Cemetery, where she is buried under her real name:
And just last month, I visited a friend in Grass Valley, California, where Lola lived during the Gold Rush from 1853 to 1855. Her house is still standing. In fact, it has been preserved and features a couple of historic plaques that celebrate her life. The first is a state-registered landmark that describes Lola Montez as "a mistress of international intrigue and a feminist before her time":

The second plaque is a bit odd. It says that Alice Lorraine Andrews, who acquired the Lola Montez house in 1933, gave it to the Pioneer Association of Nevada County, California, "to honor her grandparents and other pioneers and to create a center for the furtherance of Christian, patriotic and cultural ideals."
The house itself is a cozy, tidy-looking affair, maintained in good order as of the spring of 2012. It sits on a lot just a few blocks away from "downtown" Grass Valley, which is now a sleepy town with some good cafes, wine-tasting bars and restaurants.
The house wasn't open the day I showed up, but I peeked inside, and the interior looked stuffy and quiet. The image I took appeared fuzzy and ghostly. Is Lola's spirit still inside?
After an early divorce, affairs with virtuoso pianist Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I, a fatal duel, a revolution in Bavaria, several ugly marriages, countless whippings and a restless dancing career on four continents, Lola Montez died of syphilis in New York at the age of forty-three, broke and friendless.

Often when I think of her, I want to save her, yet I know I can't. But at least I can pay her a visit!

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