by Len Lear
On Halloween night in 1867, William Hunter, Jr. died in a mysterious fall from a Germantown mansion’s attic window. In the room was a doll. Since then, there have been more strange deaths in the house, and the doll is always present. To this day, people whisper about the curse. A group of paranormal investigators arrive at the mansion to solve the mystery but end up in the middle of another haunting murder. Can you solve “The Case of the Cursed Doll?”
Just in time for Halloween, Ebenezer Maxwell Mansion, an authentic Victorian mansion at 200 W. Tulpehocken St., is presenting its 10th annual murder mystery, “The Case of the Cursed Doll,” on Oct. 24, 25 and 31 and Nov.1. To solve the mystery, participants move from room to room in the mansion, where they are greeted in each room by an actor portraying a suspect.
Upon entering the museum, guests are given a clip board with a list of murder weapons, suspects and rooms. At the end of the experience, they have the opportunity to solve the mystery. Those who guess correctly are entered into a drawing to win a Halloween-themed gift bag. Apple cider and ginger snaps are served.
Since it is the 10th anniversary of Ebenezer’s murder mysteries, we asked Diane Richardson, the mansion’s executive director, the following questions about the past decade of shows:
What was the most people you ever had in attendance for the run of a show?
An estimate of the most people for the run of the show would be about 370. The actual capacity for the murder mystery, if all the tickets are sold, is 352, but in the past, we have crowded a few extra people in for individual tours. Probably the very most popular mystery we have produced so far was “Death of a Titanic Survivor.” The Titanic is just such a popular topic. A lot of interest has been generated by this year’s mystery, “The Case of the Cursed Doll,” just because spooky dolls draw an audience.
Has anyone ever considered going on the road, so to speak, and putting the mysteries on at other locations in addition to Ebenezer?
The murder mystery is site-specific theater. Guests move from room to room in the mansion, where they are greeted in each room by an actor portraying a suspect. Taking the mystery on the road would be difficult since it is specifically written for and staged in the mansion.
Can you mention any particularly interesting, humorous or compelling anecdotes surrounding any of the plays? Something falling, someone missing lines, etc.?
Several years ago, one of the special effects for the murder mystery involved a fog machine. Of course, during rehearsals everything ran very smoothly. About half-way through the first evening of performances, the fog machine set off the mansion’s smoke detectors, and the alarm sounded loudly throughout the building. Within probably three minutes, I was able to reset the system to stop the incredibly loud noise that was blasting throughout the building. The funny aspect of this story is that NO one attempted to leave the building or was even worried.
During the 2013 mystery, “Twisted – A Dickensian Murder Mystery,” one of the characters was Miss Havisham from “Great Expectations.” Of course Miss Havisham’s costume was a wedding dress. One set of guests was a surprise birthday party for a woman’s 40th birthday. This was arranged by the husband, and about 20 people came together in a bus, so they were all drinking. By the time they arrived, let’s say they were having a good time. Once they went through the mystery, a few of the more jovial men really wanted Miss Havisham to come out to the bus. So off she went in her wedding dress out of the house onto the street and into the bus. The whole thing was pretty funny.
One last story involves a group of eight women from Roxborough who attend the murder mystery every year. They always come dressed in funny hats, and then about half-way through the mystery they stop and together sing “Kumbaya.” The actors always look forward to their visit.
Where do most audience members come from — Northwest Philly?
About half of the audience comes from the 19144, 19118, 19119, 19129 and 19128. However, we do have folks who drive quite a distance to attend. This year, so far, ticket purchasers are from the above zips as well as Horsham, Telford, New Jersey, Delaware, West Chester, King of Prussia, Limerick — really, the Greater Philadelphia area.
What is it that people like about murder mysteries compared to traditional plays? Is it the audience participation part?
People like to “solve” the mystery. Also, those who guess correctly are entered into a drawing for a Halloween/Autumn themed gift bag. One gift bag is given for each day the mystery is presented. Also, the phenomenal special effects have become a draw for our guests.
Are there any actors/actresses who have been in the mysteries every single year? If so, who?
Two actresses have been in the mysteries every year, Judy Palkon and Karen Stevens. Karen lives near the mansion, and Judy is a friend of hers who lives in Roxborough. Judy is a teacher at the Henry School, and Karen retired as a teacher at Henry.
“Cursed Doll” will be performed the next two Saturdays at 5:30 p.m. and the next two Sundays at 2:30 p.m. Cost: $16, or $14 for groups of six or more.
More information at 215-438-1861 or ebenezermaxwellmansion.org/murder-mystery/