I stumbled upon this grave in the Salt Lake City Cemetery over the weekend while looking for someone else’s final resting place. One of my favorite things when wandering around a cemetery is when tombstones have a picture of the person buried there. I spotted this one from quite a distance. Hollering at Matt to stop the car I jumped out to get a closer look.
Sometimes when I research specific people I really come up empty except for maybe an obituary, or a death certificate. There are times where I find absolutely nothing. That’s not to say that the person didn’t live a fantastic life, just means that it’s been lost to time. So when I come across someone that I can find a lot of information on, it’s my absolute favorite thing. Such is the case of Mrs. Nellie Breyer.
It was really difficult, pretty much impossible to get a legible picture of what her tombstone actually says because of the sun. It reads:
Wife of William V.
October 10, 1860
July 12, 1905
Later that evening I started researching and was surprised to find that Nellie Drury Breyer was a well-known Salt Lake City actress during the turn of the 20th century. She was married to William Vaughn Breyer, also a well-known actor who had performed with Edwin Booth (John Wilkes Booth’s brother). Nellie and William often appeared on stage together until William became quite ill and couldn’t perform as often. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see that her husband is buried right next to her with a much simpler tombstone. He died a few years later on August 22nd, 1910.
From all accounts, Nellie Breyer was a popular actress in Salt Lake City from approximately 1890 until her untimely death fifteen years later. Her last public appearance was during the first week of July 1905. Nellie played the character of Mrs. Van Buren in “Frenzied Finance.” At her doctor’s insistence, Nellie agreed to take what she thought was a short break from acting and focus on her ongoing health. On Friday, July 7th she was admitted to St. Mark’s Hospital where she underwent surgery for stomach cancer.
The following day the Salt Lake Telegram reported that the surgery went well and Mrs. Breyer was resting comfortably. However, in the days following surgery Nellie took a turn for the worst and at 5 am on the morning of July 12th, Nellie passed away. Her cause of death is listed as colon cancer. Nellie Breyer was 44 years old.
The Salt Lake City theatrical community was heartbroken to hear about Nellie’s sudden and unexpected death. By all accounts, she was not only incredibly talented, she was well-loved within the community. They were worried about her husband and six children as it appears she was the breadwinner of the family. Within days of her death, a benefit was planned to help raise funds for her family.
The newspapers said that the Utahana Stock company actors would be performing, as well as many other theater groups from around Salt Lake City. Over 100 performers in total were there including many popular Vaudeville acts. Tickets were sold for .25 – .50 and sold out quickly. On Friday, July 21st, 1905, the play “The New Dominion” was performed at the benefit to a sold out crowd.