Story by H.M. CAULEY/Photos by JASON GETZ
Bulloch Hall, the ancestral home of Martha “Mittie” Bulloch in Roswell, has a particular place in history. In the front parlor on Dec. 22, 1853, Mittie married Theodore Roosevelt, and the couple’s son, T.R. or “Teddy,” became the 26th president of the United States. Each December, the home’s curators restage the wedding to the delight of visitors from around the metro area.
But a bit of trivia about that celebration has long been overlooked. At another nearby mansion, Barrington Hall, lived Catherine Evelyn “Eva” King Baker, Mittie’s childhood friend who served as a bridesmaid on that happy day in 1853. And in another piece of little-known history, Baker reminisced about the wedding day 70 years later with a young reporter from The Atlanta Journal, Margaret Mitchell.
Of course, none of these curious connections have escaped the attention of Robert Winebarger, the historic site coordinator of Barrington Hall. “I knew about the article that Margaret Mitchell did,” he says. “Eva reminisces so much in it that I’ve always thought it was a good encapsulation of her story.”
Winebarger also saw that story as material for a play that could put the history of the hall and its inhabitants in the spotlight. “I’ve been thinking of doing some sort of dramatic piece on the family for a while,” he says. “I finally centered on Eva Baker because she was here for so long. She was born in 1837, came here as a child and grew up in the house. Even though she married and went away, when her mother was elderly, she came back to care for her and wound up living out the rest of her life here.”
Winebarger ran his idea by actress Holly Stevenson, who loved the idea and connected him with playwright Beverly Trader Austin. After a year of researching, writing and revising, followed by several months of rehearsals, Austin’s one-woman play, “Bridesmaid of Barrington Hall,” debuted in October 2016. In the one-hour production, Stevenson takes on multiple roles to tell Baker’s story.
“I play several characters who tie into the history, and I transform during the course of the play,” she says. “It takes place in the parlor with Margaret Mitchell setting up the interview. Then I become Eva, and as she’s talking about T.R., I grab a hat and a pair of glasses, and I’m T.R. It just flows right along.”
“Holly transitions three or four times,” Austin says. “When she’s Eva Baker, she very slowly becomes a lady who is 65 years older than the young Peggy Mitchell, and then she’s T.R. with the help of some props. And she does it beautifully.”
In early December, Stevenson will reprise those roles in an updated version of the play that will feature audience participation. “We’ll ask people to be different family members to help describe the different relationships,” she says. “It’s also a fun way to have adults be part of the action while we deliver the information about who married whom in a very entertaining way.”
It was fascinating to learn about Baker and her moment in history, Stevenson adds. “I knew a little about Roswell and Barrington Hall because I’ve played Beatrix during the ‘Tea with Beatrix Potter’ events around Easter,” she says. “And I knew Eva lived in the house, but the rest was news to me.”
Austin also relished digging into Baker’s connection to history. “I’m very curious about historical background, where things began, how long they’ve lingered, what ghosts are still around,” she says. One of her prize discoveries was tucked away at the Roswell Historical Society, where she found an itinerary from then-President Roosevelt’s 1905 tour of the South that included a visit to Baker at Barrington Hall.
“It’s so neat to do the show in the very parlor where Teddy Roosevelt paid his respects to our main character,” she says.
For the December production, Barrington Hall will be decked out in holiday finery, much as it might have been in 1853 when Mittie Bulloch’s wedding was the highlight of the season.
“This time, we’ll play up the Christmas angle a little more than the original,” Winebarger says. “But we’ll still keep it in the drawing room where Margaret Mitchell interviewed Mrs. Baker.”
And that bit of chill in the room might be more than the December air — it just could be the presence of three ghosts conjured up from the past.
“Bridesmaid of Barrington Hall.” Dec. 3 and 10. $15. 535 Barrington Drive, Roswell. 770-640-3855. roswellgov.com/Barrington-Hall
Since “Bridesmaid” takes place in Barrington Hall’s parlor, seating is limited to just 25 at each performance.
Barrington Hall, a historic mansion on seven acres in the heart of Roswell, was completed in 1842. Tours of the grounds and house are offered hourly from 10 am. to 3 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 3 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $8 adults, $6 children from 6 to 12, and $7 for seniors 65 and older.
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