Re-enactment brings Boone County history to life

Thursday, December 2, 2010 | 5:49 p.m. CST; updated 10:53 p.m. CST, Saturday, December 4, 2010
From left, Charles Dreyer and his cousin, Susie Layton, listen to Mary Shaw, Dana Naylor and Bill Crawford sing in the music room as carolers at the Maplewood House on Saturday.

COLUMBIA – When visitors step into Frank Nifong's study at Maplewood House this weekend, Michael Scott might ask them what kind of surgery they'd like that day.

He also might ask what they think of last year's World's Fair or their opinion of President Theodore Roosevelt.

If you go

A Boone County Christmas

What: A re-enactment of Christmas in the Maplewood House, set in the early 1900s, and a Santa's craft workshop for children in the Walters-Boone County Historical Museum.

When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday. The Santa's workshop event is on Saturday only.

Where: 3700 Ponderosa St.

Admission: $3 for adults and $1 for children. Visitors can buy tickets at either location. 

Call: 443-8936.

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Scott, along with about 18 other performers in the Maplewood Barn Community Theatre Players, will be part of a production re-enacting the 1905 Christmas season in the historical house at Nifong Park. He plays Frank Nifong, a Boone County surgeon who was instrumental in establishing Boone County Hospital, now Boone Hospital Center, as well as other county hospitals in Missouri.

The actors face a peculiar challenge in this performance: Because they interact with their audience in character, they must be knowledgeable about turn-of-the-century events, both local and national. And they have to be ready to improvise.

Director Molly Dodge, who also plays neighbor Sally Bass in the re-enactment, said she wrote a basic script for the actors, but they will mostly ad-lib as they speak with visitors and direct them to other rooms in Maplewood House.

"They go into the historical facts as well as just living daily life," Dodge said.

In addition to being familiar with early 20th century history, actors have to be mindful of how their characters would have spoken back then, avoiding sarcasm or modern terms such as "OK."

"You have to be very careful that you don't put anything in that would be modern now, even with language," Dodge said. 

The director said that many of the actors researched the history of the families they are portraying so they can have plenty to say at the re-enactment, a collaboration between the theater and the Boone County Historical Society.

Represented in the performance will be Nifong; his wife, Lavinia; and her parents, Slater and Margaret Lenoir, who built Maplewood in 1877, according to the historical society. The performance will also feature actors playing visiting relatives and one woman playing a traveling seamstress.

The event's planners decided to set the re-enactment in 1905 because Frank and Lavinia Nifong had just moved into Maplewood and added electricity and indoor water — both modern conveniences for the time, according to Jenifer Flink, the Historical Society's executive director.

After the actors discuss Maplewood's history with visitors, they will direct them to activities taking place in other rooms. Actors will ask visitors to participate in activities such as caroling, hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree and making sure none of the men playing poker are cheating.

This is the second year the Players have performed the re-enactment. Flink said that because of positive response to last year's performance, the Historical Society asked the theater to add a second day this year.

Ticket prices are $3 for adults and $1 for children. The event is a joint fundraiser for the theater and the Historical Society. Flink said that although the year has been difficult financially for both groups, they chose to lower last year's cost of $5 for adults and $3 for children so that more families could afford to participate.

"We wanted to make it more accessible," she said. "We wanted to make it more affordable for everyone to see Santa, see the house and just enjoy the holidays."

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