“We Love Our Nielsen”

St. Mary Star of the Sea Church was founded in Far Rockaway, Queens, during the 1850’s. Its cemetery is the final resting place for a former parish organist who was once America’s top box office attraction, actor and singer Alice Nielsen (1872-1943). Born in Nashville to a Danish father and an Irish mother, she started singing at an early age. After a brief and unhappy marriage, she set out on the vaudeville circuit, and by the late 1890’s she was starring in Victor Herbert’s operettas on Broadway. Soon the newspapers were proclaiming, “We love our Nielsen.” The Italian actress Eleanora Duse said of Nielsen that her voice “makes one dream and forget the realities of life.”At the height of her fame, Nielsen left Broadway for opera, performing alongside Caruso in La Boheme. A few years later, she returned to Broadway, but by 1920 her star had faded. She owned a house in Far Rockaway near her brother, who was the parish organist for St. Mary’s. In later years she succeeded him. You can listen to some of her performances on Youtube. (Thanks to Monsignor Sean Ogle and Father James Cunningham, former and current pastors of St. Mary’s respectively, for alerting me to this story!)

About Pat McNamara

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