The Bordentown Historical Society premiered a new performance event on Saturday detailing six stories of murder, mayhem and tragedy — all pulled directly from the history of the town.
The 90-minute true crime series, titled “Harrowing History,” takes place outside of the Divine Word Missionaries at 101 Park St. in Bordentown each Saturday evening through to Nov. 9. The live historical performance was created by Kristi Kantorski, the art and marketing director of the Bordentown Historical Society.
Kantorski described the event as a play on Bordentown’s moniker as a “little city with a lot of charm” because it aims to tell the truth behind that charm — which is one that she believes has yet to be uncovered.
“To my knowledge, these stories have never been heard before,” Kantorski said. “I’ve back-checked this with a lot of families, because a lot of the families in Bordentown are long-standing families. The people come here, and they stay here. They’re rooted here … and they’re unfamiliar with these stories.”
Kantorski has been gathering research for the series since January 2019 from local and national newspapers, trial records, census data, institutional reports, printed diaries and obituaries.
“I started digging, and the more I dug the more I found these creepy stories of brutal murders, odd tragedies — you name it, I was finding things,” Kantorski said. “And people started asking, ’What are you doing? What are you looking into?’ And I would tell them, and they were like, ’That’s cool. You should do something with that.’”
The event was originally planned as a walking tour, but in light of the coronavirus pandemic Kantorski and other Bordentown Historical Society members felt it best to create something “at smaller scale.”
“We can actually limit the number of people (to 25 per show), conform to the restrictions with everyone wearing a mask, and hold it outside,” Kantorski said.
Actors will be wearing masks while preparing for the show, but not during their performances. Attendees of each performance must wear a mask at all times.
The Bordentown Historical Society was founded over 90 years ago with a mission to preserve, teach and inspire curiosity about Bordentown’s rich history. This mission is partially carried out through the Bordentown Historical Society’s annual flagship events, including its Spring Garden Tour, Peach Social and Fall House Tour, all of which were disrupted this year by the coronavirus epidemic — making the timing of the “hybrid of play performance and straight storyteller performance” quite “perfect,” according to Kantorski.
“Usually in the fall you have a lot of the haunted hayrides, you have a lot of outdoor events before you’re stuck in the winter closed in … you want to be outside, but oftentimes you can’t be,” Kantorski said. “So you want to offer something before that happens again.
“And given (COVID-19) people have been restricted in what they can and can’t do. So it’s nice to be able to offer something that’s both really unique and different in what we’re doing, and also still have that comfort level for people who don’t want to be too close to someone they don’t know or following those precautions,” she added.
This showcase features the performance talents of Bordentown locals Anne Hay, Chris Campbell, James Parker and Stacy La Mell, along with Leann Testerman, Elyse Kiedaisch and Melissa L. E. Baker.
“There’s something about a dark epic that captures the imagination,” Baker, who co-founded her own professional theater troupe, Chaste Treasure, said in a press release shared with NJ Advance Media. “When there’s real depth, people follow the story all the way.”
“I’m thrilled we’ve got something brand new to interest more people in history,” Bordentown Historical Society Trustee Suzanne Wheelock added in the press release. “It’s great for the community and the Bordentown Historical Society.”
Beyond offering people “something different,” Kantorski expressed her hope that the performance event would be both a fun and thought-provoking experience for all who attend it.
“The ultimate goal here with this is, number one, to just simply entertain people when they need it most,” Kantarski said. “And the second one is for them to go home and maybe tell a family member or tell a friend, ’Hey, did you know that we live here and this happened then?’
“This is not the type of history you learn in the school books; this is not about wars or specific individuals or people,” she added. “This is about true-life events that I think a lot of people can relate to because it’s small-town life.”
Individuals can purchase tickets to see “Harrowing History” online, and email their questions about the event to BordentownHistoricalSociety@gmail.com. Attendees can shave $5 off their $20 ticket purchase if they show a recent receipt at the performance from a Downtown Bordentown Association member business.