The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII
30 Bremmer, Gregg, Piper, & Rose
is stored at Mars Hill. We called it Memory Collection: The Legend of Bascom Lamar Lunsford, Minstrel of the Appalachians and commissioned a playwright named Randy Newton to do that for us. The play was quite successful, but one of the things about the plays we do, in the telling of historical pieces, we try for them not to be literal tellings of the history. Randy came up with an interesting idea, that of a young man who wants to learn how to be a song-catcher. This character goes to Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s house in South Turkey Creek to learn some things from Bascom, and they’re sitting out on the porch and playing music; but all of a sudden, Leadbelly’s there, and all these other musicians are there and playing with Bascom. Bascom’s playing songs. This young man has hitched on an old train to get there down from New York City, and he has a tale to tell of his own. By the time we get to the end of the play, we realize that this is Bascom’s Heaven, not South Turkey Creek; and we only discover that later in the second act when the young man realizes that the train he was riding also crashed and that’s how he came to collect these songs. The play provides a little twist there at the end; it is not just a literal telling, but it is a vehicle to provide a lot of factual information. Our most successful Appalachian story was based on an event that happened during the Civil War in “Bloody Madison” County, North Carolina. Near the end of the Civil War in a place called Shelton Laurel, fifteen men and boys were taken to Knoxville, supposedly, to go to jail because they were captured and deemed to be in opposition to the Confederacy. Instead of taking them to Knoxville, thirteen of the prisoners were executed (two having escaped en route) and buried in shallow graves on the road to Knoxville shortly out of Shelton Laurel Valley. We commissioned Sean O’Leary, who wrote Rain in the Hollows , to write this piece: Beneath Shelton Laurel . Even Ron Rash uses it in his novel The World Made Straight (2006). Sean O’Leary had an interesting take on it, in that it was conceived of as an historical play that was not a literal telling; he set it thirty years after the event in a church in Madison County, where James Keith and Lawrence Allen, the two Confederate leaders ultimately responsible for the executions, have come to meet with one of the women widowed as a result of their actions. Keith is really looking for reconciliation with Patsy Shelton, whose husband and two sons were killed in this massacre. In the church, there’s Patsy, two men, and the ghosts (the sons, the husband, and the woman that they’ve tortured for information), and the actual triggerman.
me from the southern Appalachian region. In 2000, Jim Thomas retired; and I was hired to come back and work at the university on the faculty of the Department of Theatre Arts and to serve as the artistic director of SART—only the second artistic director of SART. I’m approaching Jim’s tenure. He had twenty-six years, and I’ve got twenty-five. He would invite me back to direct over the years. Since we got back, we reinvested in the Appalachian series of plays. In 2001, we did a new adaptation of the Frankie Silver story called They Won’t Hang a Woman , which is based on the book by Perry Deane Young’s work The Untold Story of Frankie Silver : Was She Justly Hanged? (1998). He’d done an incredible amount of research on the story of Frankie Silver, and he’s the one that led me to this idea that it was domestic violence and that she had a reason for doing it. This is a pretty sad and tragic end to an abuse victim’s life; primarily because of that, we created that piece that year and co-wrote it as well. We have since that time authored two other plays, including Mountain of Hope , about Elisha Mitchell, who was the person who was credited for discovering the highest peak east of the Mississippi, which is Mount Mitchell—it has his name. There was some controversy about the peak’s height at the time, as Mitchell’s former student, Thomas Clingman, of Clingman’s Dome and Clingman’s Peak, said no—he argued that Clingman’s Dome was higher. Mitchell met his tragic end when he traveled up to Mount Mitchell the last time to prove that it indeed was the highest peak and Clingman was wrong, but he died on the way back: fell to his death during a foggy climb back down the mountain. Clingman was a student of Elisha Mitchell’s at Chapel Hill, and he became a geologist and discovered quite a number of things in the western North Carolina mountains: emeralds and rubies, for example. For some reason, he challenged his old mentor from Chapel Hill over the years. He was a bit of an eccentric himself. He used to carry an umbrella around while he was in Congress in Washington. He’d be outside on a sunny day with an umbrella. There’s all kinds of eccentric stories about Clingman in his later years, and he actually left Congress. Many of you may have heard of the legendary Bascom Lamar Lunsford, who is a song-catcher from western North Carolina. He created/founded the Mountain Dance and Folk Festival. Lunsford was born on the campus of Mars Hill, right on the edge of campus, and there’s a marker there for him. We commissioned a play called The Memory Collection based on his scrapbook collection of all his works, which
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