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Living history characters educate, entertain Castle visitors

Visitors listen as the character Gambler George Hildreth Devol tells them stories of his adventures.

Local history came alive Saturday evening as the Castle in Marietta held its fifth annual “Night at the Museum.”

The event was an opportunity for visitors to learn about local history as seven characters in Washington County’s past were portrayed by museum staff members and volunteers.

Starting at the carriage house, groups of 12 circulated throughout the Castle visiting the characters in different rooms. In total, about 80 people took the tour.

“This is a fun event that we gear towards families,” said Kyle Yoho, Museum Education Director. “It’s based on the movie ‘Night at the Museum’ but we distill it down to local characters. This is an opportunity for us to have living history interpretation on site.”

Characters are found in different ways, according to Yoho. They find people while doing research and sometimes even stumble across some historical gems. Even museum visitors offer character suggestions. Over the years, they keep a running list of characters.

Yoho portrayed George Corner at this year’s event. Corner was a farmer born in Cornerville, just outside of Marietta in 1819. During the 1840s and early 1850s, after a season of growing crops and building a flatboat from local trees, he and a crew of four helpers would travel down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans to sell their potatoes, wheat, onions, pottery, wool and other goods.

The trip to New Orleans was hazardous but necessary as back then their main way of getting their goods to market was by flatboat. Once they sold their goods, they would also sell their flatboat and return by steamboat travel. When they returned to the area, they would repeat the cycle of growing crops, building a flatboat and making the annual trip.

“The character that he (Yoho) portrayed was my great-great-grandfather,” said Mary Jo Hutchinson of Marietta. “We come every year to this because it is so interesting, but when I heard that they were portraying my great-great-grandfather (George Corner), I definitely had to go.”

Hutchinson thought they all did an excellent job and commented how amazing their costumes were.

“We dress up as local historical characters and tell their stories,” said Scott Britton, Castle Executive Director.

Britton portrayed George Hildreth Devol, arguably the most famous gambler in American history. Devol grew up on a farm in Devola. His grandfather was Captain Jonathan Devol, the boat builder and one of the original party of 48 that came to settle Marietta.

Born in 1829, George ran away from home at the age of 10 and led the colorful life of a gambler, often called the “Slickest rascal on the Mississippi River” for playing three-card-monte, playing dice and gambling on just about anything. Claiming that he made about $2 million during his career, but nothing to show for it, Devol later wrote a book entitled “Forty Years a Gambler on the Mississippi.”

The character of Theodore Davis, the former Castle owner and Ohio Senator, made an appearance at the Castle portrayed by Dave Marlow. The Castle was in the Davis family from 1888 to 1974. Davis moved to Marietta in 1869 and was involved in oil and gas, railroads, the newspaper business and politics. He remains the only Ohio Senator elected from Washington County that was a Senator Pro-tempore.

“Thirty years ago, I acted for the MOVP (Mid-Ohio Valley Players) quite a bit and as a teacher,” said Marlow, a former Parkersburg High School teacher. “After 40 years in the classroom, it’s nice to come back to Marietta to learn about local history.”

Ella Blocksom Johnson, who later in life lived on Second Street, was the inspiration of the very popular song “Lorena” during the Civil War. The song was written by her first love, the Rev. Henry Webster who was engaged to Ella before her sister convinced her to end the relationship.

Board Member and volunteer Judy Piersall played the part of Johnson. Piersall is also a descendant of Rufus Putnam.

“I love history,” said Piersall. “Doing a character like this is interesting, but requires a lot of research.

“The appeal of this whole program is that the characters are all from Washington County,” she said. “It makes it real. There is just a treasure of stories to be told.”

The character of YMCA worker Flora Mason was played by Claire Crane who works at Marietta College.

Mason was one of 16 students that graduated from Marietta College in 1901. She studied Literature, German and Political Science during a time before women could vote.

“Mrs. Nahum Ward was very involved during the Civil War and was the President of the Union Soldiers Relief Association in Marietta,” said Jane Young, who portrayed her. “Their group would meet once a week and make supplies that were needed in the Army hospitals.”

Young said she really enjoys doing the character research and feels that it is a privilege to bring the characters to life.

“It’s nice to see this history and that they do this,” said Jim Rattray, originally of Strasburg, Pa., who was visiting the Castle with his wife Kelly. “It gives you a sense of what was going on back in the day. There’s a lot of history here that we’re thrilled to hear about.”

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