Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Arsenic and Old Lace: The Backstory

Dark Drama Turned Comedy Slays Audiences

by Scott Gallinghouse

There’s never been anything like Arsenic and Old Lace, the horror comedy about the mad Brewsters of Brooklyn, the wackiest family in theater history.
Generations of theatergoers have laughed their heads off over the homicidal activities of two sweet spinster ladies, Abby and Martha Brewster, who just happen to be insane. These old maids sympathize with lonely old men with “good Christian backgrounds” and no families to care for them.  The sisters make good on their charitable plans to put these elderly men out of their misery by poisoning the elderberry wine which the maiden lades serve them.  Martha’s recipe for their destruction is simple:  “for a gallon of elderberry wine I take a teaspoon full of arsenic, and add a half teaspoon of strychnine and then just a pinch of cyanide.”
When the play begins, Abbey and Martha have just poisoned Mr. Hoskins, their twelfth victim.
These two old ladies have one nephew who is just plain crazy, but not murderously so.  This nephew has decided that he is Teddy Roosevelt, and is devotedly acting out the life story of his idol.
Cartoon by unknown artist of “Teddy” 
as portrayed by Bill Strange in
Slidell Little Theatre’s 1967 production
of “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Whenever his loving aunts bump somebody off, they set nephew Teddy to work digging a new “lock” for the “Panama Canal” located in the cellar of their stately Brooklyn home.  The “lock” is a grave.  The aunts identify each of their victims as a yellow fever case; Teddy happily stows the victims away quietly because they are “state secrets.”
Into this house comes Mortimer Brewster, a sane nephew and drama critic involved in a charming love affair with a very modern minister’s daughter.  Mortimer’s only knowledge of murder stems from plays he has reviewed.  When Mortimer happens on the remains of his aunts’ twelfth victim, he is unnerved, to say the least, by their sweet homicides.  While Mortimer is struggling over what he should do about the homicidal behavior of his aunts, another nephew, Jonathan Brewster arrives, with Dr. Einstein, his shady plastic surgeon, as a traveling companion.  Jonathan is a homicidal maniac with an impressive international record for murder who has had his face altered to resemble Boris Karloff by Dr. Einstein’s surgery.  Jonathan has a habit of killing anyone who says he looks like Boris Karloff.
The frantic lunacies of these characters provide all of the ingredients for a riotous series of events that prove the old New York adage, “anything can happen in Brooklyn.”
Arsenic and Old Lace was the brainchild of several creative “fathers”: playwright Joseph Kesselring
Joseph Kesselring
and the comedy theatrical team of Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, who were also “play doctors,” known for re-writing a number of shows on the road to Broadway.
Kesselring was born and raised in Manhattan.  As a boy, he sang at the Church of the Epiphany, and attended Stuyvesant High School in New York.  Kesselring taught voice, music and directed glee club at Bethel Mennonite College in Bethal, Kansas in the early 1920’s, where he also directed stage productions.  Kesselring left teaching and went into acting with touring companies.  He also began writing pulp stories and plays, including two Broadway flops.
In 1939, Kesselring conceived the idea for a heavy mystery drama originally entitled, “Bodies in Our Cellar.”  It is widely believed that the plot line was inspired by real-life events in which a woman named Amy Archer-Gilligan took boarders into her house in Windsor, Connecticut and poisoned them for their pensions.  Kesselring himself claimed that the inspiration for his “murderous old lady” plot was his gentle old grandmother, the “sweetest thing in the world.”  It amused Kesselring to dream up a hidden vice for his saintly grandmother; the worst, most unlikely thing he could think of was murder.
‘Play Doctors’ Propose Antidote for Murder
When Kesselring completed his script, he submitted it to Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay, who were then enjoying great success with Life With Father, an adaptation of Clarence Day’s novel which would become one of Broadway’s greatest hits.  Lindsay and Crouse felt that “Bodies in Our Cellar” would be much more effective as a comedy, and began reshaping the script in collaboration with Kesselring.
By October of 1939, the title of the play had been changed to Arsenic and Old Lace, the perfect title for the completely absurd and hilarious comedy that Kesselring’s drama had become.  Originally, Lindsay and Crouse expected to have the premiere of the play early in 1940.  Further revisions apparently caused delays in that plan, and by June of 1940, entertainment columnist Elinor Hughes was reporting:
It is possible that Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay, co-authors of the fabulously successful “Life With Father” may turn producers next season.  They have on hand a script by Joseph Kesselring entitled, “Arsenic and Old Lace” which revolves around two spinsters who run a boarding hose, where the boarders have a way of dying off suddenly and if Mr. Kesselring can finish there will be a tryout at Skowhegan (Maine) in August.
Russel Crouse revealed later why he and Howard Lindsay ultimately decided to produce “Arsenic and Old Lace.”  After dismissing the allure of money or fame as reasons, Crouse posed the question:
Why, then you ask, did Lindsay and I produce Arsenic and Old Lace?  Why did we do it?
Well, the only reason I can think of is that we are both nuts.  I can’t take too much credit on that score because I’m not very nuts.  Just a little bit.  You’d hardly notice it.  But that Lindsay!  He’s good and nuts!
Lindsay and Crouse were sane enough to decide that they wanted famed film bogeyman Boris Karloff for the role of mad killer, Jonathan Brewster.  With the final revisions from Joseph Kesselring in hand, Russel Crouse called Karloff in the fall of 1940 and invited the actor to lunch at Lucey’s Restaurant in Hollywood.  Since Crouse and Karloff were old friends, the actor happily agreed to meet Crouse for what Karloff expected was a social occasion only.  Karloff was floored when Crouse offered him a role in a New York play – a play that would be Karloff’s Broadway debut.  Crouse was equally stunned when Karloff immediately replied that he wouldn’t consider it!
One Line Seals the Deal
Karloff’s explanation for turning down the offer says a great deal about the actor: “In the eyes of New York playgoers I was strictly a film player and I’d be darned if I’d take a chance by starring in my first big city play.”
Crouse quickly responded, “But this is a very special kind of play.”
Karloff replied: “I’m sure it is special – I just wouldn’t consider doing a play unless there were at least three parts more important than mine.  The responsibility of stardom on Broadway is too much for me.”
Russel Crouse saw an opening, and assured Karloff that there were exactly three roles more important than his.  Karloff’s interest was kindled, and the actor asked Crouse to tell him something about the part.  Crouse knew his old friend well, and shrewdly offered, “Suppose I tell you just one line you will have?”
Karloff responded skeptically, “Can you sell me on one line?”
Crouse moved in for the kill: “I think so.  You have just murdered a man, and when questioned about it, you answer ‘I killed him because he said I looked like Boris Karloff.’”
Karloff was so delighted with the chance to make fun of his screen image that he agreed to do the
Boris Karloff told any writer
who would listen that he was
“terribly scared” at the prospect
of making his first appearance
before a Broadway audience.
play.  However, during the weeks that followed, he apparently came to regret his decision.  Hollywood columnist John Chapman reported in “Chapman Covers Hollywood” for December 5, 1940, that:
Boris Karloff leaves soon for New York, where he will appear for Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse – authors of “Life with Father” – in a Joseph Kesselring comedy melodrama called “Arsenic and Old Lace.”  And Boris confesses he is scared!
He was a legit actor for 18 years – but, he says, a provincial actor, and Broadway critics and actors frighten him.
Karloff continued to tell any writer who would listen that he was “terribly scared” at the prospect of making his first appearance before a Broadway audience; he said as much to writers Harrison Carroll and Sheilah Graham while he was finishing his mad scientist role in Columbia’s The Devil Commands.  After the completion of the film, Karloff headed east to prepare for try-outs of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” scheduled to open in Baltimore on December 26, 1940.
The actor’s worst fears were realized.  His first reading was a disaster.  Karloff stuttered, he lost his voice, and he began to lose a deal more.  Karloff recounted later,
“I weighed 175 pounds when I took this job on, but the worry and fear and strain of rehearsal . . . brought me down to 149 pounds.”
Even so, the “sheer fright” of rehearsals couldn’t prevent the kindly actor from the real life joys of the season:  An Associated Press item reported from Baltimore on December 24, 1940 that:
The Christmas spirit got Boris (‘Frankenstein’) Karloff.
At a party for crippled children tomorrow, the role of Santa Clause will be played by Karloff.  He’s the villain in a current play, “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
The success of the Baltimore try-outs did little to raise Karloff’s spirits.  While the actor awaited the Broadway opening of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” he became so despondent that at one point, Karloff walked the Manhattan streets all night, trying to think of a way to back out of the play.  Karloff recalled,
I made my decision, I was lousy.  There were no two ways about it.  I was going to (Lindsay and Crouse) and (Bretaigne Windust, the director) and say ‘Forgive me – tell me how much money I owe you – I’m going home.’  Then I turned and started uptown, and all I could think of was how kind everybody had been – and I knew I had to do it.
Karloff sought help with another problem besides stage fright:  his voice was “too small to knock the dust off of the back wall of the gallery.”  However, a solution was provided, as Karloff remembered:
. . . after working so long in the movies, my voice became small . . . and when finally, for the first time in my life I got into a show on Broadway . . . my vocal chords were not up to it.  Windy (Bretaigne Windust, the director of the show) was marvelous about it.  He told me to take some cotton strewn with eucalyptus oil and stuff it into a corncob pipe and suck on it.  It soothed and strengthened the vocal chords and we all – ladies as well as gentlemen – went around sucking on corncob pipes for days.
Friday, January 10, 1941:  A few hours before the curtain rose at New York’s Fulton Theatre for the initial Broadway performance of “Arsenic and Old Lace,” co-producer Howard Lindsay approached his collaborator, Russel Crouse, shook his hand and said:
We have not long to wait.  It is my studied conviction that we either have a very big hit or we will both be run out of town.
At that moment, Boris Karloff probably feared that he, at least, would be sent packing back to Hollywood.  While he was awaiting his Broadway debut, the humble actor simply remarked, “I was scared stiff about how they would like me.”
Hours later, when the curtain finally rose, Karloff waited in the wings for his entrance while Broadway veterans Josephine Hull (Aunt Abby), Jean Adair (Aunt Martha), Allyn Joslyn (Mortimer) and John Alexander (Teddy) enjoyed tremendous laughs from an enthusiastic audience.  These excellent players showed a vitality throughout, and their timing was perfect.  Referring to the old ladies and nephew Teddy, Karloff remarked:
Those characters, so innocent and otherworldly, so sweet and na├»ve, despite the oddity of their behavior, must be made credible, for it they’re not, the play would cease to be funny and would become unpleasant.
Still, when Boris Karloff actually set foot on the stage to audience applause, it was a decidedly
In 1941, Boris Karloff was wowing critics with his stage work as
a homicidal maniac in the black comedy Arsenic and Old Lace.
The in-joke of the play was that his character was repeatedly
mistaken for Karloff due to some botched plastic surgery.
A film adaptation of the hit went into production at that time,
but unfortunately, the play’s producers would not allow
Boris to appear in the movie because he was the
main attraction for Broadway audiences.
unpleasant movement.  As the actor vividly remembers, he opened his mouth, “but nothing came forth . . . For an instant I was in a panic.  I don’t suppose the audience knew of my trembling knees and the lump in my throat but I was scared.”
Karloff needn’t have worried – the opening night audience continually burst out laughing throughout the play.  Karloff’s wife, Dorothy, recounted the scene:
The audience was all very exciting – all the critics in the first few rows, Charlie Chaplin was there, and all sorts of people.  But from the moment the curtain went up you knew it was going over.  The audience started to laugh – and just never stopped.  They were the most wonderful audience I’ve ever seen – they applauded and cheered and yelled ‘Bravo’ and ‘Speech’ – and after about the 15th curtain call, Boris and the two old ladies had tears streaming down their faces – and I was weeping – and it was just colossal – the whole thing.
Those first few rows of critics were no less enthusiastic in their reviews.  Brooks Atkinson, critic of the New York Times, wrote:
‘Arsenic and Old Lace’ is so funny none of us will ever forget it.  It kept the first night audience roaring with laughter.
Richard Watts, Jr., of the New York Hearld-Tribune, hailed the play as “. . . the most riotously hilarious comedy of the season.”
New York Evening Post critic John Mason Brown summed up the critical response to “Arsenic and Old Lace” neatly by saying:
(It is) so side-splitting and terrific it can be guaranteed to make even dramatic critics care for the theatre.  Just when it is threatening to make you scream with terror, it compels you to scream with laughter.
The first-night reactions were only the start for Arsenic and Old Lace.  Ahead were months of standing-room only audiences, a road-showing touring company, a hit film, more than 1400 performances on Broadway, and more than 1300 performances at the Strand Theatre in World War II London.  And more than 70 years later, the antics of the mad Brewsters of Brooklyn still evoke laughter.  As Boris Karloff remarked, “If a play is well done people will go to see it, whether it is ‘Macbeth’ or ‘Arsenic and Old Lace.’  I think I can safely say our play is a good one or it wouldn’t be going so long.”
Gregory William Mank, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff:  The Expanded Story of a Haunting Collaboration, with a Complete Filmography of Their Films Together (Jefferson, N.C.:  McFarland & Company, Inc., 2009)
Cynthia Lindsay, Dear Boris:  The Life of William Henry Pratt a.k.a. Boris Karloff (New York:  Knopf, 1975)
Numerous contemporary newspapers, including The Portland Oregonian; Trenton Evening Times; Dallas Morning News; Baton Rouge Advocate; New Orleans Times-Picayune; San Diego Union; Kansas City Star; Boston Hearld; Spring Field Daily Republican.

About the author:
Scott Gallinghouse
Scott Gallinghouse works as Senior Underwriting Counsel for First American Title Insurance Company in New Orleans by day, but at night and on the weekends, Scott is a lover and student of many things, including Universal Monster films. This love lead him to the Universal Horror Film Board and Scott began to research information for several authors, most recently Greg Mank and Michael A. Hoey.  Currently, Scott is working on his own book regarding the iconic Universal film, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.  Researching Arsenic and Old Lace was a joy (and his wife, Tracy, asked him to do it). 

Scott grew up in New Orleans.  He graduated from the University of New Orleans with a B.A. in Political Science before attending LSU Law School from which he graduated in 1977.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

‘Radium Girls’ Director Offers Audition Tips

Auditions for Slidell Little Theatre’s production of the comedy/drama Radium Girls, will be held Sunday, January 19 and Monday, January 20 at 7 p.m. at the theatre.

The cast calls for 4 to 5 men and 5 women of varying ages, with some doubling of roles. Director Sara Pagones has left open the possibility of expanding the cast size depending on the number of people auditioning for the play.

All auditions are open to the public. Slidell Little Theatre is located at 2024 Nellie Drive in Slidell.

Based on a true story, Radium Girls traces a young woman’s battle with a large corporation after learning that  the radium paint she and her co-workers are using to make watches luminous are in fact making them deathly ill. Written with warmth and humor by D.W. Gregory, Radium Girls is a fast-moving, highly theatrical ensemble piece with more than 30 parts—friends, co-workers, lovers, relatives, attorneys, scientists, consumer advocates, and myriad interested bystanders. Called a "powerful" and "engrossing" drama by critics, Radium Girls offers a wry, unflinching look at the peculiarly American obsessions with health, wealth, and the commercialization of science.

In advance of the auditions, Sara offered her Top 10 Audition Tips:

1.     Make eye contact with the person(s) you are reading with -- the director wants to see how you play off others.
2.     Don't block your face with the script. The director wants to see your face
3.     Avoid rocking back and forth on your feet -- it's distracting.. Stand still but comfortably with good posture.
4.     Don't worry about mispronouncing or stumbling on words in a cold reading -- your reading ability isn't what's being evaluated.
5.     Be open to the idea of taking a role different from the one you're seeking. Sometimes the director sees or hears something you don't.
6.     If you are feeling nervous, try to channel it as energy/adrenalin.
7.     Don't be afraid to ask a question about a character or scene during a cold reading.
8.     Be quiet and respectful of your fellow actors when they are auditioning.
9.     If you have rehearsal conflicts that you know about, be thorough in listing them.
10. Try to enjoy the experience.
More details about the play and characters can be found here or by emailing radium@slidelllittletheatre.org

The Northshore’s premier community theatre since 1963, Slidell Little Theatre is a 501 (c) 3 nonprofit, all-volunteer organization dedicated to engaging, educating, and involving members of the community in high quality theatrical productions. SLT is supported by a grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development, Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism in cooperation with the Louisiana State Arts Council as administered by the St. Tammany Commission on Cultural Affairs.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Arsenic and Old Lace: The True Story

Arsenic and Old Lace opens January 17, 2014 at Slidell Little Theatre

By Don Redman

Insanity. Greed. Serial killings. All ingredients for a side-splitting comedy? As fantastic as it may seem, the real-life events of a drug-addled, psychotic serial killer were the inspiration behind the dark comedy Arsenic and Old Lace, set to open later this month at Slidell Little Theatre.

Originally written as a drama, the laugh-out-loud comedy that has been keeping audiences in stitches for decades was in fact inspired by an actual serial killer who may have dispatched as many as 60 elderly victims to their demise.

Playwright Joseph Kesselring created the sisters Abby and Martha Brewster to fill the role of “Sister” Amy Archer-Gilligan, a real-life serial killer whose victims may have numbered somewhere between 20 and 60, including some of her husbands. In the play, the two psychotic sisters run a boarding house and knock off a series of elderly men using elderberry wine laced with arsenic, a poison favored by the non-fictional Amy Archer-Gilligan who also ran a boarding house for the elderly.

Kesselring’s initial script was a heavy drama and was only later revised into a comedy at the insistence of producers Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse (who were well known as play doctors). The result, The New York Times declared opening night 1941, was a play "so funny that none of us will ever forget it.”

But the inspiration behind the classic comedy was anything but funny.

Amy Archer-Gilligan
Convicted of just one murder, "Sister Amy"
is suspected of having killed 20-60
elderly men under her care 
According to Mara Bovsun, a journalist and author who has written extensively about serial killers, Amy Archer-Gilligan and her first husband, James Archer, were first employed in 1901 as live-in caretakers for John Seymour an elderly widower in Newington, Connecticut.

After Seymour’s death in 1904, his heirs turned the residence into a boardinghouse for the elderly and employed Amy and James Archer as caretakers for the residents. According to a description of the mansion pictured on the website Historic Buildings of Connecticut, the house operated under the name of “Sister Amy’s Nursing Home for the Elderly” until 1907 when the residence was sold and Amy and her husband were forced to move on.

The couple moved to Winston, Connecticut, where they purchased a house and converted it into a new nursing home –  the Archer Home for Aged People – which according to Bill Ryan, a reporter writing in The New York Times in 1997, served as an early model of health care for the elderly in Connecticut.

“She offered some enticements for living there,” Ryan wrote. “Most of her clients were elderly men and they could get lifetime care simply by signing over their life insurance policies to her or by giving her $1,000, a healthy amount of money at the time, when they checked in.”

Whether Amy’s killing spree began with her first husband remains a mystery, but after his death in 1910 of “natural causes,” Amy cashed in his freshly-issued life insurance policy and continued to operate the nursing home. Up to that time, the mortality rate at the Archer Home for Aged People averaged about three deaths a year.

By 1913, the year Amy remarried, events had turned decidedly darker – and deadlier – at the Archer Home for Aged People, prompting a newspaper from the period to later famously declare that the home had become “a murder factory.”

According Mara Bovsun, Amy’s second marriage to Michael Gilligan, a widower, didn’t last very long: “He died just three months after the wedding of what was called an ‘acute bilious attack,’ a fancy word at that time for severe indigestion.”

But thanks to a very timely revision of Michael Gilligan’s will – written the night before his sudden and unexpected death – Amy Archer-Gilligan was again financially set to continue providing care to the elderly.

Despite the attending physician’s determination that Michael Gilligan had died of natural causes, suspicions continued to mount, especially among loved ones of the dearly departed.

By 1916, the mortality rate at the Archer Home for Aged People had soared 250 percent, from an annual average of three deaths per year to 10 per year. According Mara Bovsun, a whopping 80 percent of the deaths at the nursing home occurred during a brief span of five years, from 1911 until her eventual arrest in 1916. Of the 60 deaths recorded over 10 years at the Archer Home, 48 had occurred since 1911.

The Murder Factory today
Photo by J.W. Ocker
According to an investigative report from the era by the Hartford Courant, there were 15 deaths recorded at the Archer Home in 1912, 13 in 1913, and 11 in 1914. Stunning numbers considering that there was an average of only 10 or 12 residents at any given time.

Still, all deaths had occurred naturally, according to Archer-Gilligan’s favorite attending physician, Dr. Howard King.

According to M. William Phelp, author of The Devil's Rooming House: The True Story of America's Deadliest Female, a book about Archer-Gilligan, by 1912 Amy Archer-Gilligan had become a “morphine junkie” (her daughter, Mary, would later testify about her mother’s drug addiction and frequent “drug-induced stupors”).  Archer-Gilligan reportedly was able to purchase 20,500 morphine tablets over a three-year period, according to Phelp.

But in 1914 the drug abuse and the escalating death toll at the “Murder Factory” had been largely ignored by the public and may have continued to be ignored had it not been for the apparent greed on Archer-Gilligan’s part, an insistent sister of a victim, and an in-depth investigation by the local newspaper.

Her last victim was Franklin Andrews, who at 59 years of age, was not the typical boarder at the Archer Home. According to author William Phelp, Andrews suffered from crippling rheumatoid arthritis and in 1912 he checked himself into the home to avoid being a burden to his family. He paid Archer-Gilligan $2,500 upfront, with the understanding that he would live there and be attended to for the rest of his live.

The rest of his life lasted about two years.

“The morning of May 29, 1914, Andrews was seen cheerfully working on the lawn at the Archer house,” writes Bovsun. “By the following evening, he was dead.”

As with all the victims of the Murder Factory, Dr. King determined that Andrews had died of natural causes.

But shortly after Andrews’ death, according to Bovsun, his siblings came into possession of a number of Andrews’ letters and personal papers and discovered that “Archer-Gilligan had been badgering Andrews for money” just days prior to his death.

Phelp’s book includes a letter Andrews had written to his cousin in 1913 – about a year after having moved into the Archer Home – in which he expresses his alarm about the mortality rate at the home. There had been 18 residents at the home when Andrews moved in – 17 had since died within a year.

According to Bovsun, Andrews’ sister Nellie Pierce took her suspicions to the district attorney, but was unable to convince him of foul play. So she turned to the local newspaper – the Hartford Courant.

It took the newspaper several months to complete its investigation, but the resulting series of articles written about what the paper called “A Murder Factory,” reportedly prompted the state police to finally launch an official investigation.

The body of Franklin Andrews was exhumed and an autopsy confirmed the presence of arsenic at levels that could “kill several men,” Bovsun writes. The medical examiner also reported that there was no evidence that Andrews suffered from “gastric ulcers” as Dr. King had reported in the certificate of death.

The discovery prompted additional exhumations of her second husband and a few former residents under Archer-Gilligan’s care. All five showed signs of having been poisoned, either arsenic or strychnine.

According to Bovsun, additional evidence, including purchases by Archer-Gilligan of large quantities of arsenic that she claimed was used to “kill rats,” and her second husband’s apparent forged will – allegedly handwritten by Archer-Gilligan the night prior to her husband’s death – all were used to build a case against her. She was subsequently arrested in 1916 and charged with the murder of five men.

Mike Mayo writes in his book American Murder: Criminals, Crime and the Media, that  Archer-Gilligan pleaded innocent to all charges and that Dr. King, who apparently had never witnessed an unnatural death at the Archer Home, made the bizarre claim that “the bodies had been tampered with by ‘ghouls,’ and the poison added after death.”

A jury convicted Archer-Gilligan in 1917 of murdering the five men, but the conviction was overturned on appeal. The defense attorneys successfully argued that the entire trial had been about just one case – the murder of Franklin Andrews.

Archer-Gilligan was granted a new trial in 1919, and this time her defense was insanity. Alienists, the term for psychiatrists at the turn of the 20th Century, testified to her insanity and her daughter described Archer-Gilligan’s morphine addiction.

Perhaps sensing a looming date with the gallows, Archer-Gilligan pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of Andrews and was sentenced to life in prison.

Throughout the remainder of her life – or while she remained lucid – she maintained her innocence and denied having ever poisoned any of the residents under her care.

Writer Colin McEnroe revisited the case in 1997 in a special edition of the Hartford Courant. He reported that Archer-Gilligan spent five years in the state prison before being declared insane and shipped off to a mental hospital.

“That was in 1924,” writes McEnroe. “Archer-Gilligan went to the hospital and spent another 38 years, mainly sitting in a chair, in a black dress trimmed with lace, holding a bible and praying.”

“Sister” Amy Archer-Gilligan died in 1962, at the age of 93 of natural causes.


 By M. William Phelp

By Marva Bovsun

By Bill Ryan

By Colin McEnroe

Photo by J. W. Ocker