Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts

Staging Ground: An American Theater and Its Ghosts

by Leslie Stainton

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In this poignant and personal history of one of America’s oldest theaters, Leslie Stainton captures the story not just of an extraordinary building but of a nation’s tumultuous struggle to invent itself. Built in 1852 and in use ever since, the Fulton Theatre in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, is uniquely ghosted. Its foundations were once the walls of a colonial jail that in 1763 witnessed the massacre of the last surviving Conestoga Indians. Those same walls later served to incarcerate fugitive slaves. Staging Ground explores these tragic events and their enduring resonance in a building that later became a town hall, theater, and movie house—the site of minstrel shows, productions of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, oratory by the likes of Thaddeus Stevens and Mark Twain, performances by Buffalo Bill and his troupe of “Wild Indians,” Hollywood Westerns, and twenty-first-century musicals.

Interweaving past and present, private anecdote and public record, Stainton unfolds the story of this emblematic space, where for more than 250 years Americans scripted and rescripted their history. Staging Ground sheds light on issues that continue to form us as a people: the evolution of American culture and faith, the immigrant experience, the growth of cities, the emergence of women in art and society, the spread of advertising, the flowering of transportation and technology, and the abiding paradox of a nation founded on the principle of equality for “all men,” yet engaged in the slave trade and in the systematic oppression of the American Indian.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780271077468
Publisher: Penn State University Press
Publication date: 06/13/2014
Series: Keystone Books
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 264
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Leslie Stainton is the author of Lorca: A Dream of Life, which received the Society of Midland Authors Award for Biography. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post, Opera News, American Theatre, Michigan Quarterly Review, and River Teeth, among many other journals.

Table of Contents


List of Illustrations



Prologue: 1961

1 Haunted

2 Mr. Yecker Opens a Theater: 1866

3 The Killing of the Conestogas: 1763

4 Sacred Space

5 Mr. Hager Builds a Hall: 1852

6 “What Has the North to Do with Slavery?”: 1852–1861

7 Interlude

8 Theater of War: 1861–1865

9 Mr. Yecker Opens an Opera House: 1873

10 In Transit

11 Buffalo Bill and the American West: 1873–1882

12 Memory Machine

13 The Minstrel’s Mask: 1852–1927

14 Empty Space

15 Players: 1886–1893

16 Women’s Work: 1870–1931

17 Cartography

18 Images, Moving and Still: 1896–1930

19 Ghost Dance: 1896–1997

Epilogue: 2008




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