Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bringing Back the Ghosts

I was thrilled (and a little nervous) to be asked to further expand Clermont's Legends by Candlelight tours in 2009. We began this program in 2007 with two nights of ghostly tours through the mansion--well, it was supposed to be two nights, but that darned October rain cut us down to one. Every tour was jam-packed, and we have been offering more every year to meet the demand. Now we're up to five nights of ghosts, and the pressure is on to keep new ones coming in each year.

Most of the ghosts are the same each night, but depending on the resources and the volunteers, there are a few "stations" that get different ghosts on Fridays vs. Saturdays. Some favorites come back year after year (there is no substitute for Margaret Beekman Livingston raging and dead in the dining room), but this year it looks like I will need to research, write scripts, and find costumes for as many as eight new characters. That means I'd better get started now!

Digging back into the Livingston history for the strange, unusual, or sad lead me right away to Nancy Shippen Livingston. Her story is surprising enough on its own that I didn't have to think hard at all about how I would work history into "scary." Married young to the black sheep of Margaret Beekman Livingston's brood, the somewhat sheltered Philadelphia socialite found herself within a a few years hiding with her parents and embroiled in a battle of wits for custody of her only child.

Nancy's journals and letters were published in 1935 and can be found in several places online. For me this proved to be a treasure trove of information and--even better--Nancy's own words! There is nother better to me than including a character's actual thoughts and words in the Legends by Candlelight Spook Tours.

Nancy's journal is filled with the heart-breaking story of woman with no little or no legal protection from her terrible marriage. Her entries bear the repetitive refrain of her worries, intersperced with the social regimen that served to distract her.

"Monday--I am distressed past all discription at not hearing of my dear Child for so long a time. What can be the reason? is she sick or, what? unhappy creature that I am! a state of suspense is without exception the most disagreeable." --November 1783

I think it is about time her story got heard!

For the purposes of the tour, there is always more work though. Once a script that paid respect to her life was hammered out, I am still left with a quest for costume and volunteer to bring her to life.

Her gown in the only extant portrait of her is easy to recognize as a chemise de la Reine or gaulle, popularized by Marie Antoinette shortly before the French Revolution. The gauzy white cotton dress should not be too hard to make (since I am also the impromptu costumiere when we aren't able to give the costume department at our Peebles Island Resource Center enough warning).

Now it just comes down to locating the right volunteer. Does anyone out there want to be part of an historic Spook Tour?

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