Bringing Alpine County history to life
On April 11 and 12, “Unsettled Spirits … a History Mystery” was performed at the Alpine County Library. There was a full house both nights and before the curtain went up there was an atmosphere of jollity among the audience as they socialized and bought raffle tickets for an interesting assortment of prizes donated by locals.
The play is a reenactment of events proceeding from the murder of Erik Errikson in Silver Mountain, in 1872. What led up to the murder? Ernst Reusch, a native of Denmark and a newcomer to Alpine County, had married Emily Bergendahl. However, it soon became apparent that the new bride had not forsaken all others; she continued her romantic association with the handsome Erik Errikson, saloon owner in Silver Mountain. Errikson, adding insult to injury, moved into Reusch’s house where the illicit couple set up housekeeping. According to the local paper, Errikson: “forbid him [Reusch] the house, threatened his life and continually abused him.”
The outraged Reusch moved into Mrs. Brown’s boarding house. Then on the evening December 1872 he borrowed a shotgun and walked down the street to Errikson’s saloon where he shot Errikson, who was sitting with his back to the window playing cards. Reusch then went next door and turned himself in to Undersheriff Dunlap.
Local sympathy for the wronged husband was diminished when it became known that a trial in Mono County (Reusch was too well-known in Alpine to stand trial there) would cost $7,000, a sum far too great for the new County to bear.
This is where the play begins. At 3 p.m. On April 17 1874, Reusch, the prisoner, began his journey from Silver Mountain to Bridgeport by horse-drawn wagon , accompanied by fifteen men.
As the wagon approached the toll road bridge a group of masked men stepped out of the gloom. They demanded the prisoner at gunpoint. Under-sheriff Davidson’s plea for a fair trial for Reusch failed; Reusch jumped down from the wagon and the rest of the party was ordered to move on.
Reusch was pushed off the bridge with a rope around his neck. However, the rope broke. It is rumored to this day that Reusch survived the fall into the river but was finished off by a stone to the head. The inquest reported that he was: “…bruised around the head.” The masked men were never identified.
Professor Paranormal and Rita the Librarian held uproarious interviews with ghosts who were associated with the murder of Errikson and subsequent hanging of Reusch.
In the intermission, at the invitation of the narrator, the audience became amateur sleuths, searching the library for signs displaying cryptic clues and filling out charge sheets accusing their favorite culprit and documenting motive and method. Most of the participants thought that Reusch was prevented from going to Mono County for a fair trial to save the county money.
Karen Dustman wrote the play as a fundraiser for the Friends of the library in commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the county. The script evolved with input from the cast and maintained a lively spontaneity as the characters continued to ad lib in rehearsals and performances.
To the delight of the audience, the play was sprinkled with references to present day Alpine, eg.: “Now back in the 1870s Alpine didn’t have much money … kind of like now…” Karen, who also produced the play, expresses gratitude and admiration for the talented cast of Alpiners.
Tom Sweeney: Narrator, deserves special credit for assembling props, including a flashing rope.
Rita Lovell: Rita the Librarian, ad libbed to very humorous affect.
Steve Hibbs: Professor Paranormal, (psychic sleuth) was suspected by two of the audience “Because he appears so normal” and because of his foil-covered hat.
Richard Harvey: Ernst Reusch; his accent was admired by a Scandinavian in the audience.
Don Jardine: Erik Errikson, was irresistible with the handle-bar mustache and twinkle in his eye.
Teola Tremayne: Emily, astonished us all with her vast bosom.
Jane Sweeney: Madame Louisa Brown, a born actress. Memorable are her huge work boots and flask down the front of her gown. She made the masks.
Gary Howard: Judge Goff; his ad-libbing had the audience in stitches. He made Hangman’s Bridge and the guns.
Jim Holdridge: Charles Fisk, was out of character but quite convincing as a complete scatter-brain.
Special thanks to Janine Sprout for the eye-catching posters and to Mike Meyer, “The Hat Guy.”
And we thank you, Karen, for all the hard work and an evening of history and guffaws.
More than $1,000 was raised from ticket sales and the raffle for the Friends of the Library.
Historic facts were taken from Karen Dustman’s book: Ghost of the Sierra: Silver Mountain City.