Just in time for Halloween, Centenary Stage Company takes a chilling journey back to the final days of the infamous Tillie Smith.
More than 100 years ago, the murder of Tillie, a kitchen worker at Centenary Collegiate Institute (now Centenary University), rocketed the town of Hackettstown to national prominence. With wildly fluctuating reports driven by what some claim to be yellow journalism, the reputation of Tillie and her accused murderer, James Titus, swung from young innocent to harlot and upstanding citizen to lascivious predator. While Titus was convicted of her rape and murder, the truth is still unknown as to what actually happened that fateful night.
To this day, many say her ghost still haunts the campus of Centenary University, with reported sightings in dorm hallways and stories of hearing organ music without anyone playing. The stories of Tillie’s haunting still resonate on the national stage as Centenary University has been recently named by Readers Digest as "one of the 10 most haunted colleges in America".
On Saturday, October 28 at 2pm, join Centenary Stage Company for a guided walk, complete with historical narration, following the path of Tillie Smith moments before her tragic death. The tour also provides a glimpse of old Victorian America and life in 19 century Hackettstown. Additionally, the historical walk will encourage its participants to act as detectives, separating fact from legend, in the ultimate search for who really killed Tillie Smith.
Then on Wednesday, November 1 at 7:30pm, Centenary Stage Company will present a staged reading of PEW Fellow Jeanne Murray Walker’s play The Tillie Project. Commissioned by Centenary Stage Company in 2002 under the auspices of CSC’s distinguished Women Playwrights Series, The Tillie Project is the result of an 18-month research and development process including several town hall-style meetings and radio call-in programs, where community members were invited to share their own knowledge of the event. Additionally, Walker consulted with numerous historians, pored over documented first-hand accounts, combed through newspaper articles from the period, and meticulously scrutinized the actual transcript of the trial that ultimately led to the conviction and sentencing of James Titus.
Although a work of historical fiction, The Tillie Project keeps true to its source material and at times borrows directly from the trial transcript.
Directly following the reading of The Tillie Project, Centenary Stage Company will host a talkback with special guest author, Maryann McFadden. A Northwest New Jersey resident and Tillie expert herself, McFadden just completed her fourth novel, The Cemetery Keeper's Wife, an historical novel about the murder of Tillie Smith in 1886, which ignited a tide of outrage throughout Victorian America. The novel goes back and forth in time as McFadden interprets the life of Tillie, a potato peeler at Centenary College Institute, and her death, through the eyes of Rachel Miller, who just moved into Union Cemetery after a hasty marriage to Adam, the 7th generation cemetery keeper. The novel will be released in 2018.
Additional published works include her self-published novel, The Richest Season, which sold at auction to Hyperion Books. The Richest Season became a Target Breakout Novel and was awarded an Indie Next Pick by The American Booksellers Association. She also authored So Happy Together and The Book Lover, also Indie Next Picks.
McFadden is also a speaker and writing coach, and loves to chat with book clubs. Her unusual publishing journey has inspired many aspiring authors.
The Tillie Smith Historical Walk on Saturday, October 28 at 2pm is a free event. There is a $5 reservation fee for the staged reading of The Tillie Project on Wednesday, November 1 at 7:30pm. Reservations are highly recommended.
The Tillie Smith Historical Walk and staged reading of The Tillie Project are sponsored in part by The House of the Good Shepherd and Heath Village.
For more information or to reserve tickets visit www.centenarystageco.org or call the CSC box office at (908) 979-0900. The box office is located in the Lackland Performing Arts Center, 715 Grand Ave., Hackettstown, NJ, and is open Monday through Friday from 1-5pm and two hours prior to every performance.
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The 2017-2018 season of performing arts events at the Centenary Stage Company is made possible through the generous support of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the NJ State Council on the Arts, the Shubert Foundation, the Blanche and Irving Laurie Foundation, the Sandra S. Kupperman Foundation, and CSC corporate sponsors, including Premier Season Sponsor Heath Village Retirement Community, Silver Sponsors Hackettstown Medical Center, Home Instead Senior Care (Washington), The House of the Good Shepherd, Fulton Bank of New Jersey, and Centenary Stage Company members and supporters.