Partner Edwin Forrest

Queer Places:
Mount Auburn Cemetery Cambridge, Middlesex County, Massachusetts, USA

James Oakes (May 22, 1807 – June 5, 1878) was the proprietor of Boston's Old Salt Store; he met Edwin Forrest backstage after a performance of Damon and Pythias in 1827. The two became fast friends, and after Forrest's divorce, they spent nearly all of their free time together. Forrest's official biographer, William R. Alger, relates that Forrest's Philadelphia mansion displayed portraits of Oakes in the entry, the dining room, the picture gallery and the library.

John Banim's Damon and Pythias was perhaps the most popular of Forrest's non-Shakespearian roles outside the prize plays. The play focuses on the passionately loyal relationship between two men. After his divorce, Forrest’s closest relationship was with his lifelong friend, James Oakes. Forrest labeled the bedchamber across from his own in his Philadelphia mansion “Oakes’ room,” and Oakes hosted Forrest whenever the actor played Boston. Oakes cared for Forrest as his health worsened and was left an annuity of $2.500 a year in his will. Forrest continually invited Oakes to join him on vacations and business trips, and the two men refer occasionally to a common fantasy in which they move together to Cuba, to “live and die there amid the warm breath of fragrant fruits and flowers.” Oakes, for his part, often began his letters to Forrest with “My noble Spartacus” and closed with even more effusive affection,”Command my services to the fullest extent in anything and in everything. For I am, from top to bottom, inside and out, an all through, forever yours.” In a letter to the sculptor Thomas Ball, who had been commissioned to make a statue of Forrest, Oakes explained that “For more than forty years I have known this man with an intimacy not common among men. Indeed, our friendship has been more like the devotion of a man to the woman he loves than the relations usually subsisting between men.” In a letter Forrest relates to Oakes that his leading lady, Lillie Swindlehurst, had asked him “if we are married as you told her – which is the Woman.” In a subsequent letter, Forrest declares that he will tell Lillie “that either of us is quite likely to turn to a Woman, when it is desirable.” In 1872, while on what would be his final stage tour, Forrest was stricken with pneumonia in Boston. Oakes nursed him back to health and then spent much of the summer with him in Philadelphia. Forrest embarked that autumn on a reading tour. He returned to Philadelphia to gather his strength but died on December 12, 1872. Oakes arrived immediately to supervise all preparations and dress Forrest’s body for burial. As he contemplated the body of his dead friend, Oakes later wrote to Alger that “it seemed to me that my body was as cold as his and my hearth as still. The little while I stood at his side, speechless, almost lifeless, seemed and age. No language can express the agony of that hour, and even now I cannot bear to turn my mind back to it.”

James Oakes was born in 1807. He first met Edwin Forrest in 1827, aud from that time dated their intimate friendship. He was deeply interested in theatrical matters, and was for many years an amateur critic, furnishing brief paragraphs to the papers. Afterward, over the signature of "Acorn," he acquired a good reputation as a stated contributor to several leading journals in the East and the South. Forrest almost invariably consulted Oakes, and carefully weighed his advice before taking any important step. Oakes made it his study to do everything in his power to aid and further his friend. Every summer for thirty years of his life Forrest made it a rule to spend a week or a fortnight with Oakes, when they either loitered about Boston or went into the country or to the seaside, and gave themselves up to leisurely enjoyment. These visits were as regularly returned. When Oakes retired from business Forrest settled upon him sufficient means to render him comfortable, Oakesconsenting orly after prolonged persuasion. Forrest also amply remembered his friend in his will, and, besides making him an executor of his estate, named him as one of the managers of the Actors' Home at Springbrook.

James Oakes died at Arlington, Mass., on June 5, 1878.  

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