Gems from the Gent
How Falcon Rest Became the Victorian Mansion
Where History Is Fun
The restoration of Falcon Rest began in 1989. When the mansion opened to the public after 4-1/2 years of hard work, over 1,000 local people toured during the first two days.
But it was the state's electric co-op magazine that started the love affair between Falcon Rest and tour groups. Tennessee Magazine has over 400,000 readers, and when the Victorian Lady and I appeared on its cover a few months after the mansion opened, the church and senior groups started calling.
They had two reactions: "This is one of our favorite mansions we ever toured" and "Where do we go eat?" It didn't take long to figure out the correct answer was, "Right here!"
It came in handy that the Victorian Lady grew up in
South Louisiana and has an inbred talent for great food, and that I've
been accused of being a born storyteller. An area news magazine called
me "a walking encyclopedia in a tuxedo." Group Tour Magazine
said, "Tales roll off his tongue as easily as butter off a hot knife."
Face #1: The Victorian Gentleman
Meals were served on the mansion's veranda when those first groups came, and I had a revelation -- 30 or 40 people can't fit in one room for a mansion tour, much less see and hear. So the Vaudeville Style History Show was born, with the fun-loving, full-figured, fast-talking Victorian Gentleman weaving funny stories about the mansion's history while folks were seated comfortably for their meal. Then they were turned loose to spread out in the mansion, seeing everything at their own pace without having to look over somebody's shoulder. The groups were soon coming year round, and a large and elegant Victorian Carriage House dining room followed -- complete with a stage where I could spin my tales.
Face #2: Buffalo Bill (aka Mr. Faulkner)
A former employee who had become director of a local charity came to me several years ago, asking him to put on a Victorian play she had found as a fund raiser. I said, "I've been thinking about doing a murder mystery based on the real history of the mansion for a long time. Let's do that instead." My wife and I played Mr. and Mrs. Faulkner, the former employee became Mag the Cook, and all the local people in the audience were assigned real characters from 1897.By the time Mag discovered Mr. Faulkner dead in her kitchen, and Buffalo Bill Cody (who really was in Middle Tennessee in 1897) showed up to solve the murder, the audience was rolling with laughter. Murder at the Mansion has been performed hundreds of times since, participated in with delight by groups aged 10 to 90 from all over the country.
Face #3: The Clay Ghost
Falcon Rest's employees also inspired a second interactive show, Ghost at the Mansion. The building was known for its spirits even before it was restored, and the staff kept insisting, "Do something about the ghosts." At "the Victorian mansion where history is fun," a spooky show didn't seem appropriate, so this one is designed to tickle the funny bone as well as the spine. Stories about the mysterious, unusual happenings at Falcon Rest and other Tennessee locations are woven into a light-hearted ghost convention set in the modern era. Everyone in the audience gets a character, only in this show, they're all dead. The Victorian Gentleman and Lady are Mr. Faulkner and his mother-in-law Darthula, and the governess Georgia Cox takes on the personality of the employee who often plays her: "she's looking for a man, and any man will do."
Face #4: Gen. John Hunt Morgan
Growing up here, I was vaguely aware that Gen. John Hunt Morgan had spent some time in McMinnville during the Civil War. I didn't realize how significant that was until someone writing a book on Morgan's famous raid behind Union lines came for a tour. Morgan's Raiders got farther North than any other Confederate troops, and the author told me the General planned the raid during a three-month honeymoon here in town.
I was fascinated.The story has everything -- romance, humor, and drama as 6,600 Union soldiers attempted (unsuccessfully) to capture Morgan.
People often tell me I look like a Confederate general, so it seemed natural to write a show based on actual local events during that time. I play a "slightly-graying" 37-year old Morgan. The Victorian Lady portrays Virginia French, the McMinnville poetess who threw a ball to honor the newlyweds. And someone in the audience becomes my 21-year-old bride. It's always interesting to see how she'll handle sitting down in a hoop skirt.
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