My great, great grandmother, Mary, was a Ziegfeld Girl with the Ziegfeld Follies. She was sixteen when she left her Boston suburb and headed to New York City with dreams of being a dancer. By the time she was eighteen she was officially a Ziegfeld Girl; it was 1909. She performed almost every night during the summer months at the Jardin de Paris Theatre at 1514 Broadway at 44th street, a theatre that would be demolished in 1935. In her off months, she was a dance teacher and lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

The Jardin de Paris was an enclosed roof garden atop New York Theater (previously Olympia Music Hall and later the Leow’s Theater). In this 1909 photograph of Times Square, you can see the glass enclosed Jardin de Paris on the top two floors of the New York Theater on the left.  Today, the colossal Toys-R-Us store (with the indoor ferris wheel) stands where the theater once was.

In 1912, shortly before the Follies moved to the Moulin Rouge Theatre, Mary met a young French painter and fell in love. She stopped dancing, married him and moved back to New England. Despite having been pursued by some of the wealthiest and successful men of the time, she opted for true love, obscurity and eventually, poverty. By the time my father knew her (she was his great grandmother), she had early onset Alzheimer’s and lived in an elderly home. She always had a doll under her arm that she referred to as her “baby girl,” and despite her long-gone memory, she continued to wear her elaborate headdresses from her Follies days”¦ even if she couldn’t quite recall how she came across them. The below photograph was part of the collection she left behind, and is of fellow Ziegfeld dancer Doris Eaton Travis.

Mary is my only ancestor who dared to dream loud enough to actual pursue what some may deem impossible. And while the places where she roamed and called home in both New York City and Brooklyn may no longer be, or have evolved to the state of being unrecognizable, her imprint remains like the permanent indentation we’ll all impart on this city when we decide to leave it behind.