Abingdon, Virginia, Barter Theater, Wizard of Oz, and a Ghost Story

As this virus drags on, limiting our travel, while staying within Carilion Clinic’s travel guidelines of staying in Southwestern Virginia, we find ourselves in Abingdon, Virginia. Approximately 15 miles, as the crow flies, from the Tennessee border, and at the beginning of The Virginia Creeper Trail as we nestle back in our convertible to watch the Barter Theater performance of The Wizard of Oz.

We arrive in Abingdon a couple of hours early, to take in some historic sites in downtown.

Next to the welcome sign was an old phone booth that is now converted into a phone charging station. Who would have thought!

Just further down on Main Street, the majestic and stately Martha Washington Inn sits on the right of Main Street. Originally built in 1832 for $15,000 by General Francis Preston, a hero of the War of 1812, for his family of nine children. Over the course of the last 188 years, the building has served as an upscale women’s college, a Civil War Hospital, and barracks, and as a residence for visiting actors of the Barter Theater.

The Inn is said to be haunted by several spirits from the civil war. One ghost story that I felt as a true love story that carries on forever is entitled The Yankee Sweetheart. ❤️

The Yankee Sweetheart story is about a tragic love affair between a student at Martha Washington College and her Yankee sweetheart. Although still a girl’s college, Martha Washington College served as a hospital during the Civil War. Several of the girls did not return home during the war but bravely volunteered to stay at the school as nurses. Captain John Stoves, a Yankee officer, was severely wounded and captured in town. Soldiers carried Capt. Stoves through the cave system under Abingdon and up a secret stairway to the third floor of the building. Capt. Stoves lay gravely wounded in what is now Room 403. For weeks, a young student named Beth nursed and cared for him. She found herself falling in love with the brave captain, and he returned her sentiments. Often, Beth would lovingly play the violin to ease his pain and suffering. But, their love was not to last for long. As he lay dying, he called, “Play something, Beth, I’m going.” Unfortunately, Beth was too late to escort him out with a song, because he died suddenly. Beth tearfully played a sweet southern melody as a tribute to him. When a Confederate officer entered and explained that he was taking Captain Stoves as a prisoner, Beth faced him triumphantly and said, “He has been pardoned by an officer higher than General Lee. Captain Stoves is dead.” Beth died a few weeks later from typhoid fever. Many of the female students who later attended the college, as well as inn employees and guests, have heard Beth’s sweet violin music in the night. Others report that Beth visits Room 403 to comfort her Yankee soldier.

Isn’t that an awesome story!

In 1935 the Inn opened up and has been a host to many guests. Among them have included, Eleanor Roosevelt, President Harry Truman, Lady Bird Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and Elizabeth Taylor.

Down Main Street, and adjacent is The Barter Theater. It opened on June 10, 1933. It is the longest-running professional theatre in the United States.

In 1933, when the United States was in the middle of the Great Depression, many people could not afford to pay for theater tickets, and many actors had trouble finding employment.

Beginning with “some twenty of his fellow actors”, Robert Porterfield, founder of the theatre, offered admission by letting the local people pay with food goods, hence the name “Barter”. He said, “With vegetables that you cannot sell you can buy a good laugh.” The original ticket price for a play was 30 cents, or the equivalent in goods.

Barter Theatre’s first production was After Tomorrow by John Golden. An AP news story reported that the production “was played to a capacity audience that came laden with cakes, fruit, vegetables, poultry” and a live pig. Yes a live pig! Needless to say, the actors ate well.

Many well-known stars of stage, screen, and television have performed early in their careers at The Barter Theater, including  Gregory Peck, Ernest Borgnine, Patricia Neal, Ned Beatty, Kevin Spacey, and Larry Linville.

In 1946, The Barter Theater was designated as the State Theater of Virginia.

After sightseeing, we took in dinner at the Peppercorn Mill. It was a old home with beautiful hardwood, high ceilings, and a grand staircase. Our meal was good with a flight of margarita’s.

Now for the main attraction to what brought us to Abingdon. Tonight, because of the virus, the Wizard of Oz play was put on at the Moonlite Drive-In Theater. Everyone sat in their cars and listened to the play on their car radios. The stage was upfront with the drive-in theater’s screen above the stage showing the performers. What a great way to continue the performances. The play was just as good as if it was at the theater.

Dorothy with the Scarecrow

Dorothy sums it up best at the end of the play.

“If I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own back yard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.”

And just like that I clicked my heels three times and said, “there’s no place like home”, and 2 1/2 hours later I was home. Haha

I hope you have enjoyed our trip to Abingdon, Virginia


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