The McGibney Family


In March of 1881, Legg Hall hosted a concert by the McGibney family of singers and musicians. James B. McGibney, his wife Hanna, and their many children had “not only a national but a transatlantic reputation.”  The family had been touring since 1875, rode the rails in their own custom-built Pullman Palace Car, and had played the White House just the year before, entertaining Rutherford B. Hayes.

The audience in Skaneateles surely got its money’s worth (25 cents for adults, 15 cents for children). An inspired reviewer for a newspaper in Friendship, N.Y., noted:

“This worthy and talented couple have surrounded themselves with olive branches from which leaves of music bud forth it would seem spontaneously. It is truly a most interesting family circle or to use another simile we might compare it to a flight of steps up to the temple of St. Cecilia.* The appearance of the nine McGibenys on the stage is so pleasing and homelike that it is impossible not to feel attracted towards them as one is not usually attracted towards ordinary musical or dramatic troupes… There is a novelty and a freshness about all they say, sing, play or do that is most pleasing and entertaining.” 1


Another author, in a book otherwise devoted to a condemnation of birth control, praised the McGibney family for its musicianship and fecundity:

“Before me, as I write these words, lies the picture of a model and gifted American family, to listen to whose music more than a million people have paid admittance to their entertainments, who are known throughout America, and who enjoy the friendship of some of the most distinguished Americans in the ranks of literature and art. Including the father and mother they number fourteen. Without one exception, they possess positive merit. For years they have traveled all over America, delighting audiences everywhere with their remarkable talents as musical artists.” 2

Their program itself, as described on their promo cards, included “a full band, a full orchestra and chorus… Gems of Music, in Cornet Solos and Duets, Band and Orchestral Selections, Vocal Solos, Glees, Choruses and Laughable Sketches that cannot be described, but must be seen to be appreciated.”

And so another famous family passed through Skaneateles.

* * *

Promotional cards by Courier Lithograph Co., Buffalo, N.Y., 1883, 1884

1 “Benefactors of Art,” Friendship Chronicle, July 7, 1880

2 The Crowning Sin of the Age: The Perversion of Marriage (1892) by Brevard D. Sinclair

* The temple steps to which the first writer draws an unexpected comparison are at Acatitlan, an Aztec site in the town of Santa Cecilia, northwest of Mexico City, and are shown below:



5 thoughts on “The McGibney Family

  1. James McGibney, a third great grand uncle of mine, was born in upstate New York, (Alfred, in Allegany County). He met and married Hanna at Music conservatory in Philadelphia. He held several Music director jobs in Wisconsin and other places and eventually the couple and their children ended up living in Portland Oregon. It is from there that they launched their family musical career. It is interesting that the one newspaper article was from Friendship, New York, as these were James’ home stomping grounds (and mine)and they probably visited family in that area.

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