True accounts of chilling historical events involving area residents could send a shiver down the spine of visitors to the Railroaders Memorial Museum’s Haunted Rails and Tails on the next three Saturdays.
Visitors will take a guided tour of the museum, where actors representing people who lived between 1850 and 1950 will tell real-life accounts of events.
Through these stories of death and sacrifice, Mark Frederick, director of digital outreach at the museum, hopes to honor and respectfully remember these people.
“I like the tagline of ‘the story is scary enough, you don’t need to embellish it'” said Frederic. “You will stop at several exhibits and these characters will tell you their stories.”
At the time these stories take place, safety rules did not exist and many people died on the railroad and in Altoona.
Altoona’s Maddie Letsche, who portrayed Nell Gwynn in The Church in the Middle of the Block Cultural Center and starred in “Gatsby the magnificent” at the Mishler Theater, will play Josephine Thompson.
The character is based on real women who worked for the PRR in the 1940s when men from County Blair went to serve in the war.
Letsche will tell him the story of a colleague who died while working for the railroad.
“I really admire these strong women for playing a role that was unfamiliar,” she says.
Palmyra’s Leila McCrumb, currently living in Altoona, plays Willis Fleck, a woman who lived in the 1800s who will tell the story of the loss of a loved one.
“I like to explore the pain she feels and how we all deal with those same emotions,” she says.
Edward Mulvihill, a flag bearer whose job it was to warn trains of danger will be played by Mike Manfred.
“He’s a working class guy, but his work is instrumental – kind of like an unsung hero,” said Mulvihill.
“I think it’s important for us locals to remember who came before us and what those people sacrificed, which in some cases was their lives,” said Frederic.
The organizers have imagined a production where the museum comes to life for an immersive and emotional experience.
“Ultimately, it is the mission of the Railroad Museum to honor the generations of railroad workers and workers who have built not only our community, but a nation,” said Frederic.
“Through these stories, you also get different aspects of where iconic events happened,” said Frederic.
All stories are based on articles from Altoona Tribune and Altoona Mirror. He said every story is accurate, with a little spooky twist added.
It wasn’t hard to articulate and ferret out these stories and turn them into a first-person narrative because the newspaper articles made it easy.
“The newspapers at the time really went into great detail – in some cases it was in very gruesome detail – especially in regards to murders and accidents,” he said.
From these articles, Frederick was able to create a script of 26 to 30 pages and each monologue lasts five to six minutes.
There are six stories performed by actors, with a few extras that will fill in the gaps.
He said events like these are important because they allow these stories to be preserved.
Outfits for the roles were rented from the Altoona Community Theater and some local re-enactors.
“Visitors can expect to be shocked, scared and have all the feelings you get at a Halloween event, but I think it will be more difficult when they realize it really happened and enough often”, said Frederic.
Frederick described this year’s event as a moving room with multiple scenes.
Like any other production, there were casting calls, auditions, and multiple rehearsals.
Director Emily Evey was his sidekick through it all, and Miranda Harkins, director of museum services, helped proofread the scripts.
Evey thought she had created an experience that was hard to find elsewhere.
“I can’t wait to see this all fall into place and hope people come away with a greater appreciation for local history,” she says.
Evey said they had actors from a variety of backgrounds playing all the roles.
The dates for Haunted Rails and Tails are October 8, 15, and 22.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online at the museum’s website. Walk-in tickets are available, but it is recommended that you purchase them online to ensure seats are open.
The museum usually closes after Thanksgiving, but this year it will be open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
There is a Veterans Day event coming up and the museum will be decorated again for Christmas.