By CHRIS WOOD
For HD Media
LOGAN - In 1952, the City of Logan commissioned Thomas McEvoy Patterson, professor in the Department of Dramatic Art at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to write an original script depicting the history of the Native American tribes that used to live and hunt in the Guyandotte Valley. While a student at Yale, Patterson became prominent as a playwright, winning several awards including a Wallace Stegner Creative Writing Fellowship at Stanford.
It was determined that "The Aracoma Story" would be based on the relationship between Princess Aracoma of the Shawnee and Boling Baker, a scout from General Braddock's army during the French and Indian War.
Baker was captured in 1756 by a Shawnee war party led by Cornstalk, Aracoma's father. Aracoma persuaded her father to make Baker a member of the Shawnee, and after Cornstalk agreed, she and Baker were wed.
Patterson created the story in Logan, scribbling it on napkins at the Smoke House Restaurant on Stratton Street. Initially, the actors had no lines. The play was narrated while they acted it out onstage.
"The Aracoma Story" is based on G.T. Swain's "History of Logan County, West Virginia" and E.H. Howerton's "When History Began along the Guyandotte."
Most of the events portrayed in "The Aracoma Story" took place on Midelburg Island, where the 1952 and 1953 productions were staged and where Logan Grade, Middle and High schools are presently located. In 1952, Mary Faith Cox played the first Princess Aracoma, and Tom Godby was the first actor to play Boling Baker.
According to the pageant program from the 1953 production, "The Aracoma Story" proved to be one of the most outstanding highlights of the 1952 centennial celebration in the city of Logan and was staged again in 1953.
After 1953, "The Aracoma Story" went on a prolonged hiatus. In 1975, the bicentennial commission appointed Liz Spurlock and Pleasant John to bring the story back.
Because of extensive building on the original island site, it was thought that "The Aracoma Story" needed a new and permanent home. With the approval of the Department of Natural Resources, a site was found behind the tennis courts and swimming pool at Chief Logan State Park. By 1976, to commemorate the bicentennial, professional director Robert McCrary was hired.
With the help of the community, a set was built. This time, actors used dialogue onstage.
Elizabeth Jane Gillette (ne Ferrell) fondly remembers the bicentennial production of "The Aracoma Story."
She had recently completed the third grade at Justice Grade School. She and Monica Ann Lucas, the 10-year-old daughter of Dean and Pat Lucas, played the two children who listened to the narrator, portrayed by Jonathan Lutz. Gillette's father, the late James Ferrell, played a pioneer and a soldier. Mary Beth Ferrell, Gillette's mother, was one of the stage managers and costume designers.
"It was a good time in our lives," Gillette recalled. "It was a good time for our family."
The show that year was so well-received that the board of directors felt that "The Aracoma Story" should become a permanent part of Logan County.
The present location, however, was not without its distractions.
"The creek was too loud," Gillette said, "and the seating was bad."
In 1977, in order to have a more natural amphitheater, "The Aracoma Story" decided to move to its present location - what came to be known as the Liz Spurlock Amphitheater, eponymous with the late Liz Spurlock, its former president.
Once again, because of the tightness of the budget, the community of Logan County pitched in everything from bulldozers to backhoes. James Ferrell, Dean Lucas and Sonny White were instrumental in its construction, working long, hard hours daily.
"Sometimes, my father didn't get home until sometime after midnight," Gillette said.
Each year the organization has grown and improved to where it is today. The amphitheater in 1977 consisted of a dirt stage floor, railroad ties for bleachers and a seating capacity of 340 spectators.
In 1981, J.R. Wears designed and built a permanent set of mountains as a backdrop. "The Aracoma Story" now has a concrete stage floor, seats for risers and a seating capacity of 750. It has light towers, control booths and a workshop backstage.
"The Aracoma Story" was last performed in the summer of 2016. The group is expanding its repertory to include musicals and children's plays.
In July, another fixture in Logan County history will be performed for the first time at the Liz Spurlock Amphitheater. "The Hatfield and McCoy Story - Deadly Divide," a play in two acts by Geoff Allen, tells the story of the Hatfield-McCoy Feud. It premieres Thursday, July 11, and runs through Sunday, July 28.
The production is rated PG-13 and contains violence, sudden loud noises, theatrical fog/haze, fire and graphic content. Parental discretion is advised.
Other scheduled productions include:
n Disney's "The Lion King Jr.," which will open Friday, Aug. 23, and run through Sunday, Sept. 8.
n "Mamie," by local playwright Joyce Robertson, tells the story of the brutal death and cover-up of local socialite Mamie Thurman. Mamie will be performed at the Coalfield Jamboree on Main Street in downtown Logan. It will open on Friday, Oct. 4, and will run through Sunday, Oct. 20.
n For the holiday season, The Aracoma Story Inc. will present "Elf The Musical Jr.," which will open Friday, Nov. 29, and will run through Sunday, Dec. 15. It will also be performed at the Coalfield Jamboree.
For all shows, ticket prices are $15 for adults, $12 for students and seniors and $8 for children. Tickets may also be ordered at brownpapertickets.com or Gatti's at Fountain Place in Logan, Pic-Pac at Huff Junction 10 & 80 in Man, Aracoma Drug at 772 Main St., in Chapmanville and at the Chief Logan Convention Center on U.S. 119.
Discounted tickets may be reserved with a credit card by calling The Aracoma Story office at 304-752-0253. There are also group rates.