Annabelle Whitford Moore Buchan And The Original “Gibson Girl”
The epitome of feminine beauty at the turn of the century was captured in artist Charles Dana Gibson’s skillful drawings of women, that came to be known as “Gibson Girls.”
Annabelle Whitford was 15 years old when she achieved notoriety dancing at the Columbian World Exposition in Chicago in 1893. Annabelle appeared in movies performing her dances under the name Annabelle Moore from 1896 -1902. She went onto a successful stage career hitting the top as a star in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908 playing one of the “Nell Brinkley Girls.” Brinkley (September 5, 1886 – October 21, 1944) was a female newspaper artist whose creations were very similar to the Gibson Girls. In 1910 Annabelle married Dr. Edward James Buchan and retired from performing.
In her obituary in the New York Times it was said Annabelle “was the symbol of beauty in her day. She was billed as ‘the original Gibson Girl’ because of her striking resemblance to the Charles Dana Gibson portrait.” The illustrations below are from Gibson’s 1902 book The Social Ladder.
Annabelle definitely had a similar appearance to the Gibson Girl. But as far as Gibson modeling his idealization of the perfect woman on Annabelle, there is little evidence that he did.
The truth is there really wasn’t any one Gibson Girl.
The Gibson Girl was more a composite of many models and women both imaginary and real. Gibson based many of his drawings on his own wife, Irene Langhorne Gibson. There were many other inspirations for “Gibson Girls” including Camille Clifford and Evelyn Nesbit, all pictured below.
As you can see, all the women bore some similarities to Gibson’s creation.
Getting back to Annabelle, she was allegedly offered to perform (if possible in the nude or scantily clad) on December 19, 1896 at a private bachelor party attended by 22 men at Louis Sherry’s Restaurant. Annabelle refused the offer. The party, which was organized by Herman Barnum Seeley for his brother Clinton Seeley, the grandsons of P.T. Barnum, did end up having some risque vaudeville acts perform such as Little Egypt.
On the date of the party, Annabelle’s stepfather, W.S. Moore, a theatrical agent, reported to the police that indecent acts were surely taking place at Sherry’s based on his step- daughter’s story and something should be done to stop it. At 1:30 a.m. the police, lead by Captain George Chapman, broke into the party without a warrant at Sherry’s Restaurant.
The police found nothing lewd transpiring, and the party was determined to be tame, so no arrests were made. A complaint was filed about the illegal break-in and Captain Chapman was brought to trial in a police board investigation. On February 3, 1897 Chapman was exonerated of any wrong-doing. In the interim, Annabelle’s step-father W.S. Moore died on January 17, 1897, his family claiming that the stress connected with the investigation killed him.
Annabelle was also a witness and survivor of Chicago’s horrible Iroquois Theater Fire which took the lives of over 600 people on December 30, 1903.
Some of Anabelle’s very early motion picture performances are preserved and available for viewing on youtube.
At the peak of her career Annabelle had earned upwards of $1,000 per week.
Annabelle’s husband, Dr. Buchan died in 1958. When Annabelle passed away in Chicago at the age of 83 on November 30, 1961, she was penniless and living on old age assistance, the result of misfortune and poor investments.