The Durango Heritage Celebration is already becoming part of history, but it was a fun weekend of dressing up, exploring our town’s history, and, oh, yeah, solving a murder mystery.
On Oct. 10, the Henry Strater Theatre was the scene of a veritable crime spree with not one, not two, but three suspicious deaths. Scripted by Suzanne Parker, “Murder Makes a Reservation” featured a number of local actors caught up in mayhem in the late 1880s. The mayhem started on the Denver and Rio Grande Southern’s trip from Silverton to Durango before the guests checked in – where else – but the Strater Hotel?
The cast included Geoff Johnson as Wyeth Jennings, a clueless Pinkerton National Detective Agency detective; Brad Abeyta as observant newspaper boy Archie Smart; my former colleague Ted Holteen as Phineas Moneypenney, a philandering entrepreneur from England, who is traveling with his wife, Leslie Hoxworth as Persimmon Moneypenny, who cannot find anything agreeable about the Wild West; the Rev. Zebulon Smoot, known in the 21st century as Shan Wells, traveling the West trying to close houses of ill repute; brothel keeper Fancy L’Amour, also known as Eva Stumpf, played by Linda Mack, who is involved in a flirtation with Phineas as well as trying to hold on to her enterprise; Rosebud Freelove, Caitlin Cannon, who’s hoping to move from top girl to top job; Melissa Cheffers as Priscilla Pettiheart, meek, unassuming and applying for a job as a maid; and Fergus McNab, played by the inimitable Bob Thom, failed miner hoping to create a new career by taking over L’Amour’s house of soiled doves.
Of course, as in all murder mysteries, hardly anyone was who they seemed to be.
Guests had an opportunity to gather some clues early to get a jump on solving the crimes, but they were also available on the tables. Letters, receipts, train tickets, a newspaper story about a rattlesnake hunt in Silverton, an assay office report ... the back stories went back more than 20 years and included abandonment, betrayal and some mysterious goings on that might be clues or might be red herrings.
Was it suspicious that Persimmon found the West so uncomfortable when she had apparently traveled happily in the Belgian Congo – a place full of deadly animals and insects – a decade earlier? We knew Smoot was a hypocrite, having fathered a child out of wedlock and then deserting his paramour, who killed herself, leaving her child an orphan, but would that lead the young woman to commit murder? And everyone seemed to want to take over that moneymaking brothel.
The actors presented the scenario between courses, the diners, many of them resplendent in Victorian and Edwardian garb, tried not to keep looking for CSI-ish clues, and the solutions were mostly a guess. (My team, the Durango Herald Democrat, got two out of the three.)
Unlike most murder mysteries, where there is but one villainous scofflaw, as Mr. Action Line is wont to say, there were three murderers in a cast of eight, all female. I told Parker she was ahead of her time, as women are significantly underrepresented in the field even today, but perhaps the desperation of Victorian women, whose lives were generally dependent on the men in their lives, could explain it.
Guests traveled here from throughout Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona, California, Washington, Montana, Kansas, Texas, Illinois and Connecticut.
This year marked a changing of the guard as chairwoman Rani Holt and her steering committee, including co-chairwomen Meri Oyler and Lynn Maddox, Duane Smith, Bob Kunkel, Rod Barker, Al Harper take over from the inimitable – or should that be the indomitable? – Parker and her dedicated crew, who ran it for six years.
Holt and her crew have seamlessly taken the reins to put together another splendid weekend where we could go back in time and learn more about this wonderful place we call home.
Enjoying Indian summer birthdays are Barbara Hawxhurst, Benji Mickel, Marna Burnett, Evan Gonzalez, Roy McLaughlin, Ethan Bell, Maggie Sauer, Floyd Jaramillo, Brad Fassett, Leah Deane, Christopher Berger and Creighton Hatten.
Special birthday greetings go to two of my favorite ladies, Sheri Rochford Figgs and Joan Rhoades.
It may be autumn on the calendar, but we’re only about six weeks away from Thanksgiving – I know, where does the time go? – and that means that the Salvation Army is gearing up for its annual bell-ringing campaign. Shifts are two hours, and they need about 600 volunteers to fill all the slots.
This is one of my favorite holiday activities. Watching people’s generous spirits, the toddlers trying to get a quarter through the slot in the top of the red bucket, the teenagers emptying their pocket change, the anonymous donors dropping in the $100 bills, truly makes the season bright.
Kathy Deaderick is handling the scheduling this year. Give her a call at 247-7764 to book your slot. I have found this to be a wonderful activity to do with children (and grandchildren).
The weather’s going to be up and down for the anniversary of Mike and Christine Phillips.
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