Play review: Hoosier Haunts

Hoosier Haunts is yet another delightful original production by Candlelight Theatre. As with other Candlelight Theatre performances, the play takes place at the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site.

Troupe member and playwright James Trofatter wrote Hoosier Haunts, which takes the audience through different rooms of the house. Along the way, the audience encounters different snippets of Hoosier and national history in the form of ghost stories.

The play starts in the carriage house where we meet our guide for the evening, Mr. Eaglefeather, a self-proclaimed ghost tracker who is training us—the audience—to become ghost trackers.

In the foyer, we are greeted with the first spirit of the evening, a woman who is searching for her baby. It turns out that the woman and baby both plunged to their deaths when their car went over a bridge in Wayne County. The body of the baby was never recovered.

In the living room, a distraught man recounts the murder of his college roommate at IU: axed to death outside of where they lived—the typical college-axe-murder story, as Mr. Eaglefeather admits.

In the library, a man speaking suddenly contorts as a spirit enters him. He is possessed by William Henry Harrison, who shows up to meet with his grandson, Benjamin Harrison. Both Harrisons are deep in conversation when they are interrupted by the ghost of Mary Clem. As a nod to a previously performed play at the Benjamin Harrison house, the three of them discuss the murder trial of Mary Clem who ended up walking free. It just so happens that Benjamin Harrison was the prosecutor.

In the dining room, we are privy to a discussion between two ghosts, a husband and wife. We learn that they are the Sharps, Mathias and Katherine Sharp, from mid-1800s Rockport, IN. Katherine cared for Mathias Sharp’s first wife before she died and then married Mathias. Later Mathias died of poisoning…as did Katherine’s next husband. Katherine ended up losing the house and property that she acquired from Mathias for her legal defense.

Upstairs in the sitting room, the ghost of Mary Todd wanders looking for her beloved Abraham. She engages Mr. Eaglefeather in conversation, not realizing that she herself is dead. Eaglefeather is perplexed at what her ghost is doing haunting a house in Indiana; she has connections to Illinois and Kentucky, but not Indiana. Close enough, she tells him. A pretty weak argument, he mutters.

A female ghost interrupts their conversation by her sudden appearance in the room. Walking back and forth she talks incessantly. As quickly as she appears, she disappears. Mary Todd goes off to find her Abraham and we wander into Benjamin Harrison’s bedroom.

Here we encounter two living people who recount the story of Sarah McIntire. One of the people was a long-time inhabitant of a house in Fulton County haunted by Sarah. The other person was an investigator into the story about Sarah. They are relating the story and strange happenings at the house haunted by Sarah when Sarah’s ghost shows up, chastising the investigator for her shoddy work and beguiling a male audience member.

Last, we are led up to the attic, where we encounter several ghosts and ghost stories.

Silas Shimmerhorn, a deserter from the Confederate army, shows up. He left during Morgan’s Raid into Indiana during the Civil War. He lived out the rest of his days avoiding both Confederate and Union armies by joining a pack of wolves, becoming known as the Wolfman of Versailles. His ghost is said to roam the Versailles State Park, where you can hear the howl of wolves—where wolves are not known to exist!

Next, a hunter from Shelby County regaled us with stories of tracking three does. Shooting them on several occasions, he never succeeded in harming them—until he used a silver bullet. Grazing one in the leg, he followed the trail of blood to a house occupied by three women or were-does.

Two ghosts then appear, the parents of Aesop Wilson, a Union solider who died of typhoid. His distraught mother kept him preserved in a lead coffin in the house where she could hold daily conversations with him. In an attempt to convince his wife to bury Aesop, the husband hires a spiritualist. Monsieur Portend channels Aesop. After convincing his parents that it is indeed him possessing Monsieur Portend, he begs his mother to let him go by burying him.

For the grand finale, Mary Todd’s beloved Abraham appears, recounting dreams. In one, Abraham Lincoln saw a double image of himself in a mirror, which was interpreted as symbolizing his two terms in office; the wane complexion of the second image suggested that he would die in office. In another dream, he sees himself in a casket.

As usual with Candlelight Theatre, the acting is superb. (Ken Eder hams things up, as he typically does, in the role of Monsieur Portend.) The play is a clever vehicle to explore Hoosier history woven with ghost stories. Definitely a must-attend!


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