, Salem, MA


July 25, 2013

Not your average murder mystery

Play on 1830 Salem murder, trial finds life at Griffen Theatre


This two-act structure is typical of dinner theater, where mysteries are presented that an audience then tries to solve.

That was how “Captain White” was staged in 1999 at the Lyceum Bar and Grill in Salem, then at Giordano’s Dinner Theater in Georgetown, where it ran for five months.

Lyceum was a fitting venue, Stevick said, because it inhabits the same space as the original Salem Lyceum.

That meeting place, which served as a forum for public discussion and scholarly lectures, was built in response to Joseph White’s murder.

“There was such a climate of fear — people were buying weapons — the selectmen decided to create the Lyceum to counter that fear,” Stevick said.

Although those citizens at the time were deeply affected by White’s murder, the story has never received the same level of attention as the Witch Trials.

Stevick thinks this has been in part out of deference to descendants of the families that were involved, which included at least one wealthy local benefactor.

Indeed, he only heard about the murder during a private tour of Peabody Essex Institute in the 1980s.

“They felt free to tell us the story of the Captain White murder; it’s something that was kept from official tours,” he said.

Years later, when he started researching the story, he learned more from an employee of the Institute, Nick Hammond of Beverly, who eventually revealed to Stevick that he was a descendant of the Crowninshield family.

“He didn’t tell me until the third time we met,” Stevick said. “He told me about a small display in the back of the carriage house, behind the Gardner-Pingree House,” which was originally Captain White’s mansion.

Stevick sought approval for his script from descendants of the families involved in the murder, before staging it at the Lyceum for the first time in 1997.

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