Local Current Blog

Chan Poling’s ‘Glensheen’ returns to History Theatre

courtesy History Theatre

After a near-sellout run last fall, the musical Glensheen is returning to the History Theatre in St. Paul. The show, which was written by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher with music and lyrics by Chan Poling (the Suburbs, the New Standards), opens today in a reprise run that extends through July 31 — with the cast and creative team returning from the production’s debut run.

Glensheen tells the story of the events leading up to and following the murders that took place in Duluth’s iconic mansion in 1977. A musical about actual murders? It could be a recipe for disaster, but Poling and Hatcher get it just right. As I wrote in my reviewGlensheen

succeeds by rooting the incredible true story in the family relationships at its heart: the relationships among never-married matriarch Elisabeth Congdon, her daughters Jennifer and Marjorie, and Marjorie’s husband Roger. […] Hatcher and Poling have done us a service by giving this strange, sad story a dramatic presentation that should help reclaim it from its status as a half-forgotten tale that’s furtively whispered about during tours of that towering mansion on the shore of the Great Lake.

If you’re planning to go, it might help to revisit the basics of the events that inspired the musical. Last fall I summarized the case:

The murders were truly reprehensible: attacks of deadly violence committed on two vulnerable, unsuspecting victims. The primary victim, Elisabeth Congdon, was 83 years old. A stroke had left her mobility and speech seriously impaired, requiring full-time medical supervision. Her nurse that night, 66-year-old Velma Pietila, had just retired and was looking forward to relaxing and traveling with her husband; she’d been convinced to return to work for one more night because the regular nurse was on vacation.

Duluth police were called to the mansion on the morning of June 27, 1977, after staff discovered the two women dead. The crime immediately attracted national attention. Elisabeth was the last surviving child of mining magnate Chester Congdon, who built Glensheen in the first decade of the 20th century and was reportedly the richest man in Minnesota when he died in 1916. Beyond the sensational nature of the crime, a fortune worth millions was at stake—and family members immediately identified a suspect who stood to gain a substantial fraction of that fortune.

Click here to read the rest of our primer on the Glensheen murders, and click here for more information on the show’s current run in St. Paul. This evening (July 6) at 6:30, Poling and Hatcher will be at the theater for a pre-show interview with Gary Eichten.

Glensheen has been preserved as one of Minnesota’s most historic homes, now maintained by the University of Minnesota and open to the public for tours and events — including a July 20 concert by Haley Bonar.