Living

Swain Tent Show in 1912 put on wholesome spectacle

By Murella H. Powell

COURTESY PAUL JERMYNThe Swain tent had the capacity to seat a larger audience than the average theater.
COURTESY PAUL JERMYNThe Swain tent had the capacity to seat a larger audience than the average theater.

Pictured in Gulfport in April 1912, this huge tent is up and ready for a week of live performances by the W.I. Swain Tent Show Co. The tent was filled to capacity for the April 8 opening. Swain's varied repertoire featured plays of drama, farce, comedy, Westerns and musicals without a hint of the immoral or the risque.

William Ira Swain (1865-1945), a native of Kansas, was reputed to be the biggest and most successful tent showmen in the South. He traveled extensively, setting up in a town and presenting a different show every night for week. The extravagant costumes and stage settings always appeared to be fresh and like new.

According to biographical information from the Internet, Swain's shows were known worldwide. He was reputed to have "made and lost several fortunes and may have been a millionaire at times." He retired to Texas in 1940. When he died on Sept., 3, 1945, he was broke.

Correction to the May 29, 2016, Flashback: The New Orleans to Mobile railroad was built by the New Orleans, Mobile&Chattanooga Railroad, not by the L&N. Murella H. Powell, a local historian, writes the weekly Flashback column. Do you have a local photograph to submit to Flashback? It can be of any subject or event in the Coast's distant or recent past. Please send a description with your name, address and daytime phone number to Flashback, the Sun Herald, P.O. Box 4567, Biloxi MS 39535; or call 896-2424; or email living @sunherald.com.

  Comments