Skip to page Content.

Robert Spiegelman on the fascinating lives of John Adair and Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie

, , , : a.m.

Thursday, February 14th 2008 at 7pm
at Glucksman Ireland House NYU

Victorians Gone Wild

Victorian GrandeesDrawing on original research, on-site photos and his Internet trilogy, Dr. Robert Spiegelman presents a multimedia tour-de-force of America's first Gilded Age that brims with present-day lessons. Victorians Gone Wild is the epic love story of two wounded souls: the brilliant Victorian couple who gave us America's first transatlantic marriage! They are tracked from the American Revolution, through our Wild West Indian Wars, to Ireland's stormiest Land Wars. Its centerpiece is a great Buffalo Safari across America's Great Plains, weaving between a national Gold Expedition to the north and an Indian War to the south. Husband John Adair, an infamous Irish landlord, and his wife Cornelia Wadsworth, the daughter of elite New York landowners, court and spark in Manhattan, then head off on a lark to bag the last buffalo trophy, as the species nears extinction. Though they comically fail, they end up "consoled" by founding the real Bonanza – the first Texas Panhandle Cattle Empire. Yet behind their personal fairy tale lurks the desperate need to maintain their shaky Victorian lifestyle, by any means necessary.

Cornelia's family first rises to power from the uprooting of New York's famed Iroquois Confederacy by Generals Sullivan and Clinton, on orders from George Washington. John Adair rises from wealth to notoriety as the driving force behind Ireland's infamous evictions of 250 innocents at Derryveagh, known as the "Month of the Shattered Hearth." And the Adairs' bold million-acre Texas ranch rises from the earth because one, Col. "Bad Hand" Mackenzie, drives the powerful Commanches from their last refuge in America's 2nd largest canyon – the Adairs' own ranch-to-be.

Through his vivid lecture-presentation, Dr. Spiegelman lays bare the unique crossroads where Victorian Dreams meet indigenous nightmares. He reveals the surprisingly linked fates of native Irish and native Americans. He discloses new sides of icons like George Washington, Queen Victoria, Billy the Kid and Quanah Parker, the last Commanche Chief. And he discloses how the Adairs' personal "ghosts" (the "whydunnit" of the tale) drove their transnational land spree. Finally, Spiegelman ends with striking images of the story's traces, "hidden in plain sight" in the great public parks of Ireland, Texas and New York. Urgent, timeless lessons about dispossession and privilege are drawn, true for then and for now.

Presented in collaboration with the New York Council for the Humanities.

Free admission.

In order to ensure a seat, please RSVP to 212-998-3950 (option 3) or email

Directions to Glucksman Ireland House NYU.