The expression “boys will be boys,” is often heard and usually dismissed with a grin. However, in Niagara County’s past, the sentiment has not always been a truism. As the county prepared to enter the 20th century, the idea of simply accepting raucous or morally objectionable behavior from young males was viewed with distain. Niagara Falls seemed to be at the center of this debate late in the year 1897, and a certain Lyceum Theater was “ground-zero.”
The editor of the Niagara Falls Gazette had used his bully pulpit to bring to light a large number of young boys who were patronizing the Lyceum Theater at all hours of the day and night. “Nearly half a hundred small boys, many of them in knee pants, and several who are hardly able to talk plainly, were allowed into the Lyceum last night. The attraction was the “Merry Widows Big Burlesque Company.” The writer then explained the scene, “When the curtain would go up on the women in fleshlings, the boys eyes would bulge out and every word uttered would be drunk in and instilled deeply into the young minds. No lesson at Sunday school ever had such interest for them.”
Moral indignation followed for several days as the community reacted to this travesty. “That youths are allowed to attend such resorts of amusement and lay themselves liable to moral injury, speaks very little for the laws of the city. If parents were more strict and regulated the evening hours at which their children should be home, it would do much to abate the evil. The proprietors of all houses of amusement where smoking and drinking and late hours are allowed should see to it that no boys are admitted.”
The management of the Lyceum took immediate exception and noted that boys under the age of 18 are not permitted in the theater. His explanation of the boys’ presence is somewhat amusing. “They climb through the windows and we can not prevent them. They have broken any number of windows and on more than one occasion we have had them arrested. The windows have been nailed up, but the boys crawl over the roof and pull off the boards. It is almost impossible to keep them out!” After all, even in the 19th century, it would seem that “boys will be boys.”
Douglas Farley, Director
Erie Canal Discover Center
24 Church St.
Lockport NY 14094