Quote of the Day: I immediately said, “YES.” And then, just as immediately, I said, “REALLY?” Jeff assured me he was serious. The characters were out-sized and tragic, the setting iconic, the potential was downright Operatic! Well, maybe more Agatha Christie meets the Coen Brothers. Composer Chan Poling on his reaction to working with Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher on the musical Glensheen, about the murder mystery in the Glensheen mansion that happened on June 27, 1977, in Duluth, MN.

It ran with huge success during July 2016, winning the Ivey award for overall excellence, and was back on stage at the History Theatre with the original cast July 6-30, 2017.

Lakeside and garden view of the Glensheen Mansion in Duluth, MN, on the shores of Lake Superior

This is Minnesota’s most infamous murder mystery. The Heiress Elisabeth Congdon and her nurse Velma Pietila were found murdered in the mansion on the morning of June 27, 1977. The Glensheen Mansion has offered tours since 1979, only two years after the murders. The mansion was given to the University of MN Duluth in 1968 with the stipulation that Elisabeth would live there until her death. Many people come to Duluth, and its infamous mansion, wondering about the murders. For years, the tour guides were instructed not to talk about it. Rules have loosened, and they’re now allowed to answer questions that tourists have about the house, the heiress and her nurse who were found murdered, and what might have really happened. I toured the mansion when I was a teenager, with my parents, and one other time later, but it’s been years. I have plans to tour it again this summer, with even more curiosity and insight, now that I’ve seen this fantastic musical.

Cast of the Glensheen musical. History Theatre promotional photo.

Hatcher and Poling create an intimate tour through the history of the murder, the mansion, and the people who occupied it. Elisabeth adopted two daughters, Marjorie and Jennifer. They were often at odds, like “fire and ice,” and Marjorie was sent off to a prep school out East when she started exhibiting bad behaviors. She was a prime suspect in the murders, but it was her second husband Roger Caldwell who was convicted of the crimes. The musical takes us on the journey of discovery, muddled information, volatile personalities, and conjecture. 

Jen Maren plays Marjorie and gives us all the creeps! She is devious, conniving, a sociopath, liar, and wounded. Plus, she has a great singing voice that she uses well to portray her character.

Wendy Lehr plays Elisabeth and a wide range of other characters, including a lawyer. So fantastic to watch her transform from one personality to the next, all the while telling the story through dialogue and song.

Sandra Struthers plays the “other” sister Jennifer, and other characters. Jennifer seems too perfect, and lets a darker side out in a scene involving dolls and destruction.

Dane Stauffer plays Roger Caldwell who is often drunk and confused and willing to do anything to make Marjorie happy. He easily slips into other roles as well, and he certainly has a strong, and dark, presence on stage.

Gary Briggle plays the trustee, minister, and others. His voice is perfect for that opening number. I had goosebumps as those notes filled the house, with chords that you’d hear in spooky Halloween tales.

Adam Qualls plays the reporter, cop, and others. He shines in all his roles at the History Theatre and on the numerous twin cities stages. He seamlessly transforms from one character to the next.

Ruthie Baker slips in and out playing the tour guide and many other parts, adding her own subtle nuance to the characters and story as she welcomes us to the mansion and its mysteries.

This show was on my must see list for the summer! You can see the musical Glensheen, directed by Ron Peluso, at the History Theatre through July 30, 2017. Andrew Fleser expertly directs the music played by an outstanding ensemble. The entire crew from costumes, choreography, lighting and sound create a theatre experience you won’t soon forget.

You can tour the mysterious mansion year round in Duluth.  They offer classic tours, and one called “Nooks and Crannies” that I really want to do. Don’t miss this show! It’s sure to send a few shivers, and leave you wanting to know more about the story behind the murders at the Glensheen Mansion. (insert thunder and lightning and spooky chords here)

Go. Create. Inspire!

Journaling Prompt: Are there any creepy mansions, or tourist attractions, in your area? Do you know anything about this Minnesota Murder Mystery?