Chauncey Olcott

Location: Buffalo Irish Center
Sponsor: Chauncey Olcott's four Grandchildren: Chauncey, Lammy, Charles
and Jyll. In memory of their mother, Janet Olcott Johnstone

Artist: Rick Pratt
Tree Species: 100 yr. old Silver Maple Tree
Carving Number: 17

Background: Chauncey Olcott was a renowned balladeer and Irish songwriter. Olcott was born in 1860 on the east end of West Genesee Street in Buffalo near Lockport. Olcott attended Buffalo Public Schools throughout his childhood. By the age of nineteen, Olcott was performing in minstrel shows from Chicago to London. His gentle tenor voice quickly gained praise and recognition. He began taking leading roles in plays, operas, and operettas all over the world. His credits include leading rolls in 20 Broadway plays between 1899 and 1921. Despite his fame, and rigorous work and travel schedule, Olcott returned to Lockport several times to perform in his hometown. He maintained homes in New York City, Monte Carlo and Saratoga Springs, the latter named "Inniscara" a title of one of his songs and plays, as well as a subject of many post cards of that New York area. Along with his vocal and dramatic talent, Olcott was a great song composer, which secured him a spot in the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He is credited with no less than 15 songs. Some of his more famous songs, are “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”, “Mother Machree” and “My Wild Irish Rose.” In 1947 a movie, fittingly named, "My Wild Irish Rose" adapted from a book by Rita Olcott, his wife, was made about Chauncey Olcott's life. It starred Arlene Dahl and Dennis Morgan and is still shown today on TV around St Patrick's day. Parts of the movie refer to Buffalo.

Chauncey Olcott passed away on March 18th 1932 in Monte Carlo. Due to the time difference it was still March 17th, St. Patrick's Day in the USA and appropriately people were still singing his songs. His funeral took place in New York's St. Patrick's Cathedral, honorary pallbearers included among others, New York Governor Al Smith, George M Cohan and Mayor Jimmy Walker. Chauncey Olcott is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York.

This carving has been dedicated to the memory of his only child, Janet Olcott Johnstone, who passed in February 2007. It is being sponsored by her four living children: Chauncey Olcott Johnstone, Lammy Olcott Johnstone, Janet Jyll Johnstone, and Charles Thomas Johnstone. Janet succeeded in music as well and as a young child growing up in Monte Carlo, she began playing classical music on the piano. Her natural talent was recognized by the Ignacy Paderewsky, the legendary Polish Pianist and she became his protege, performing in concert halls throughout Europe and the USA. She is reputed to be the youngest pianist to give a recital at New York's Town Hall. She gave up her musical career to marry and raise her children but she loved to entertain the family and friends playing Chopin concerto's and other classics, and also, of course, would also play her fathers Irish songs as well.

Chauncey Olcott Johnstone's words on his grandfather; “Although Chauncey Olcott passed before any of his grandchildren were born, two of us, myself and Lammy, knew our Grandmother, Rita Olcott quite well as we lived in the same house with her, in New York City in the winter, and in Saratoga in the summer. She often spoke of “Granddaddy’s” great affection for Buffalo and upstate New York. We learned a lot about him from her, and of course later from our mother.”

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