The subject of William H. Seward brings many things to mind, namely his tenure as secretary of state to President Abraham Lincoln and his role in the U.S. purchase of Alaska.
But between those peaks of Seward's professional life is a period of time that Jack Sherman believes has become overlooked. In the span of just 18 months between 1865 and 1866, Seward experienced a debilitating carriage accident, an attempt on his life and the losses of his close friend Lincoln, his wife, Frances, and his daughter, Fanny.
Experiencing not one, nor two, but five such hardships would break most men, Sherman said. But Seward persevered.
"He suffered greatly, but he was able to push through and dedicate himself to his work," Sherman said.
That period of Seward's life structures "Mr. Seward at Home," a one-man show about the Auburn politician that Sherman will perform this weekend at the Cayuga Museum Carriage House Theater.
The first part of the show finds Seward on the night of the 1864 presidential election, perhaps the height of his career, and sharing recollections as the results come in. Then, after intermission, the show jumps to 1871. Seward, who would die the next year, not only reflects on his life in more totality, but also the losses he has endured and what his family meant to him.
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"He's a very different Seward than the one you see at the beginning," said Maria Coleman, director of development at the Seward House Museum in Auburn.
Coleman worked with Sherman as he wrote the show, having performed with him in a 2018 production of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" by the Auburn Players Community Theatre. She and other museum staff also answered any questions about Seward that Sherman had, and reviewed his drafts for historical accuracy. The museum is producing this weekend's show.
A retired judge for Ithaca city and then Tompkins County courts, Sherman began researching Seward about 40 years ago, he said. He's been a "Civil War nut and Lincoln-phile" since he was 10, he continued, so upon moving to the area, he expanded his interest to Seward because of his local roots. But with just one Seward biography until recently, that research was slow-going.
"I realized how important he was, but with relatively little recognition," he said. "The more I learned about the guy, the more I appreciated him."
An actor by hobby — and being about Seward's age, height and weight — Sherman felt turning that research into a show was "natural." And as he put together "Mr. Seward at Home" over the past year and a half, he realized that the conceit of a one-man show may be the most natural thing about it.
"Talking for 90 minutes was apparently pretty typical," Sherman said of Seward. "He would just dominate — talk, talk, talk — about any topic anyone could possibly raise.
"He was quite a fella," Sherman continued. "I hope (the show) is enlightening to how much he really contributed to politics and society."