Over the weekend, there was a murder at Cascade Locks. But this mystery took place in 1899, and more than 100 residents, some decked out in Victorian-era garb, were taken back to Akron’s past to help solve this mystery.
Cascade Locks Park Association’s “Life & Death on the Locks” was a fun, interactive event, where the entire space was transformed to a stage for this Akron-centric whodunit.
The newly renovated Trailhead event space at Cascade Lofts in the Northside District (next door to the Cascade Locks park) served as the 1899 Akron Area Enterprise Exposition, where such businesses as Quaker Oats, the Mustill Family Market and the infamous J.C. DeWitt Saloon and Sample Room gathered to highlight their offerings. As Akron’s 19th century movers and shakers prepared for the award of the Chairman’s Medal, the medal turned up missing, prompting a night of scandals and betrayal, eventually leading to the murder of one of the attendees.
While the murder is fictionalized, the story has roots in actual Akron history, like character Lizzie DeWitt, a local business owner and operator of several “hospitality establishments.” Lizzie was inspired by the book “Looking For Lizzie: The True Story of an Ohio Madam, Her Sporting Life and Hidden Legacy,” written by Debra Lape, whose great-great-grandmother was the owner of the White Pigeon brothel chain, with a location in Akron. Brothels were, in fact, an important piece of local history, especially in the canal culture. (Lape’s book is available for sale at the Cascade Locks’ Mustill Store). The actors on-hand were part of Erie, Pa.-based comedy troupe In All Seriousness. The troupe wrote the script based on Akron history, including Lape’s book, says Cascade Locks Park Association Executive Director Don Gordon Jr. He adds that the script is now available for others to host their own mystery parties.
During the evening, the actors mingled among attendees, like Sheriff Justin Proper, who interrogated diners about the missing Chairman’s Medal. The players also performed mobile vignettes, and clues were left on the tables for diners to peruse. At the end of the night, attendees cast ballots naming the culprit, and about a handful of those in attendance correctly ascertained the murderer.
As the characters revealed their motives and personalities throughout the night, DeWitt, ironically, proved to be one of the more moralistic characters in the story. All of the actors committed to their parts with humorous realism, and their pun-laden monikers included such names as Anita Goodyear, C. Wright Thruitt, May B. Knott and others. Attendees of the event also dressed in Victorian-era garb, and were given access to a Victorian-style photo booth. The entire night was enhanced by a live soundtrack by local band Hey Mavis, whose Laurie Michelle Caner is a Knight Arts Challenge grant winner for her composition of “Canal Songs,” based on Akron’s canal history. The songs are expected to be turned into a full symphony.
Virginia Wojno, founder of the Cascade Locks Park Association, also was honored at the event.
The Cascade Locks Park Association is connected to a growing hub of culture in the Northside District, from the nearby Marriott hotel and soon-to-be-launched Northside Market to the Cascade Lofts, whose newly renovated space was host to “Life & Death on the Locks.” Cascade Locks also operates the Mustill Store, which offers a gift shop and serves as a living museum that ties directly to Akron’s canal history.
To host your own “Life & Death on the Locks” mystery or to learn more about the Cascade Locks Park and Mustill Store Museum, visit cascadelocks.org.
Food at the gala was provided by Vaccaro’s and Pavs Creamery.