The following comes from an 1890 news article in the San Francisco Morning Call. You can also check out the first part, the second part, the third part, and the fourth part:
A pair of wooden squares covered with sand-paper and rubbed together announces the coming of the engine in “Across the Continent.” A wish of wires did similar service for the locomotive in the “Main Line.” Cheerful, indeed, looked the fire on the hearth in the kitchen of Hazel Kirke’s home when she quitted it for the castle of Arthur Carringford. Gas jets and colored glass caused the illusion.
To be kicked downstairs should be severe punishment; it seems doubly so when done on the stage, for the crash, a machine with a lot of loose shingles working on a cog makes the commotion all the greater. Once in a while a gentleman is fired through a paper window, and in his descent apparently knocks into smithereens a skylight.
A demijohn wicker cover intact, holding broken glass, dropped as the actor takes flight, consummates the disaster to the ignominious character.
A steam pipe, or, when not convenient, slacked lime, will cause a semblance of dust or smoke in earthquakes or explosions.
A poorly equipped theater it is indeed that has not around a genius who can bark like a dog or crow after the manner of a cock…
Realistic properties are steadily encroaching on the art of the property-man. A cage of lions in “Theodora,” horses in “A Run of Luck,” “Jalma,” “Kerry Gow” and dozens of other plays; tanks of real water in which boat-races are carried on and heroines are half-drowned and dived after by brave heroes, etc., etc.
Probably the best piece of stage realism ever put on the stage was the cascade of real water, leaping from a height of fifty feet into the ravine below, seen in the recent production of “The Silver Falls” at the Boston Theater. Tons upon tons of water were utilized in this scene, and the great wonder of this exhibition of stage realism was what became of the water after it had dashed into the rocky ravine.
It was a simple matter. A huge tank was built under the stage, which, when filled to overflowing, was drained into the sewer.
All these realistic effects and such as were seen in “The Soudan” are but forerunners of an era that will leave nothing “faked” but the scenery.
Originally published in The Morning Call, San Francisco, December 25, 1890, pg 19.