Cover image for Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts By Leslie Stainton

Staging Ground

An American Theater and Its Ghosts

Leslie Stainton

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$21.95 | Paperback Edition
ISBN: 978-0-271-06365-2

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264 pages
5.5" × 8.5"
27 b&w illustrations
2014

Keystone Books

Staging Ground

An American Theater and Its Ghosts

Leslie Stainton

“Rarely does one encounter so trenchant a mix of historical detail (meticulously researched) and personal history (deeply felt). Leslie Stainton weaves the twin strands of her hometown’s Fulton Theatre and her lifelong engagement with drama in ways both delicate and deft; this is one woman’s story, but the story also of our long national wrangle with make-believe and truth. From burial ground to burlesque hall, from jailhouse to opera house and movie theater, the Fulton’s ghosts still haunt this author and, by extension, us.”

 

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In this poignant and personal history of one of America’s oldest theaters, Leslie Stainton captures the story not just of an extraordinary building but of a nation’s tumultuous struggle to invent itself. Built in 1852 and in use ever since, the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is uniquely ghosted. Its foundations were once the walls of a colonial jail that in 1763 witnessed the massacre of the last surviving Conestoga Indians. Those same walls later served to incarcerate fugitive slaves. Staging Ground explores these tragic events and their enduring resonance in a building that later became a town hall, theater, and movie house—the site of minstrel shows, productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, oratory by the likes of Thaddeus Stevens and Mark Twain, performances by Buffalo Bill and his troupe of “Wild Indians,” Hollywood Westerns, and twenty-first-century musicals.

Interweaving past and present, private anecdote and public record, Stainton unfolds the story of this emblematic space, where for more than 250 years Americans scripted and rescripted their history. Staging Ground sheds light on issues that continue to form us as a people: the evolution of American culture and faith, the immigrant experience, the growth of cities, the emergence of women in art and society, the spread of advertising, the flowering of transportation and technology, and the abiding paradox of a nation founded on the principle of equality for “all men,” yet engaged in the slave trade and in the systematic oppression of the American Indian.

“Rarely does one encounter so trenchant a mix of historical detail (meticulously researched) and personal history (deeply felt). Leslie Stainton weaves the twin strands of her hometown’s Fulton Theatre and her lifelong engagement with drama in ways both delicate and deft; this is one woman’s story, but the story also of our long national wrangle with make-believe and truth. From burial ground to burlesque hall, from jailhouse to opera house and movie theater, the Fulton’s ghosts still haunt this author and, by extension, us.”
“An effective framework synthesizing personal memoir with historical overview—and case studies drawn from the annals of the Fulton Opera House in Lancaster, Pennsylvania—produces an insightful study, one that offers an innovative, novel microcosm of American theater in small-town America. Stainton’s extensively researched examination begins with the Fulton’s role in such early events as the Paxton Rebellion and the murder of fourteen Conestoga Indians in the town jail, now the theater’s foundation, and ends with the author’s final departure from Lancaster and the beginning of a new life. This is a fascinating, candid, often entertaining journey, with frequent reflections on crucial issues in our history. Stainton’s book makes an important addition to the literature on American theater and culture.”
“Reading Leslie Stainton’s Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts is like having a front-row seat at a thrilling epic drama. Stainton packs her stage with real characters, the famous and the infamous, and events unfold in a tumult of action both tragic and comic and at times heartbreakingly poignant. This book is great theater—immediate, engrossing, cathartic.”
“Thanks to . . . Leslie Stainton’s wonderfully unique new book, Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts, I find that I care about this building I’ve never seen. . . . I can’t recommend this book highly enough.”

Leslie Stainton is the author of Lorca: A Dream of Life, which received the Society of Midland Authors Award for Biography. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Opera News, American Theatre, Michigan Quarterly Review, and River Teeth, among many other journals.

Contents

List of Illustrations

Acknowledgments

Introduction

Prologue: 1961

1 Haunted

2 Mr. Yecker Opens a Theater: 1866

3 The Killing of the Conestogas: 1763

4 Sacred Space

5 Mr. Hager Builds a Hall: 1852

6 “What Has the North to Do with Slavery?”: 1852–1861

7 Interlude

8 Theater of War: 1861–1865

9 Mr. Yecker Opens an Opera House: 1873

10 In Transit

11 Buffalo Bill and the American West: 1873–1882

12 Memory Machine

13 The Minstrel’s Mask: 1852–1927

14 Empty Space

15 Players: 1886–1893

16 Women’s Work: 1870–1931

17 Cartography

18 Images, Moving and Still: 1896–1930

19 Ghost Dance: 1896–1997

Epilogue: 2008

Notes

Bibliography

Index

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