As people search for new and different travel experiences, dark tourism programs are gaining in popularity. Dark tourism focuses on places associated with violence or death such as battlefields, concentration camps, abandoned hospitals, and locations devastated by natural forces or manmade catastrophes like the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.
Crime tours are a subgenre of dark tourism. Examples include London’s Jack the Ripper walks, Chicago’s gangster tours and Los Angeles’s true crime excursions that take visitors to the scenes of notorious murders.
We wondered if people in our area – a town of about 14,000 that is a weekend getaway destination - would be interested in a dark tourism experience. To find out my tour and special events company Hidden Marietta conducted an informal survey of folks visiting historic downtown buildings. We asked attendees if they were interested in a program called Marietta Vice. The program was described as “a look at the seedy side of our fair city’s past.” One hundred percent of survey respondents gave thumbs up to the idea. Several added handwritten comments of encouragement followed by multiple exclamation points. This was not a scientific survey by any means. However, we were confident we’d identified a concept worth developing.
We decided to build our new tour around historically documented crimes. Marietta is a river town and was a very rough place during the late 1800s and early part of the 20th century. We were not interested in offering a recreation of any of the crimes. We wanted to use the incidents as a window to Marietta’s not-so-perfect past.
Our initial time period was fairly broad, the 1880s to the 1930s. We were interested in murders, robberies, crimes involving prostitution, and illegal alcohol production, sale and consumption during Prohibition.
- The Marietta Branch of the Washington County Public Library
- Hidden Marietta
- Paskawych Entertainment, a theatrical production company
Roles and Main Tasks
The library was responsible for program sponsorship and for research. For three years the library and Hidden Marietta have worked together to offer a new history-oriented walking tour in conjunction with the library’s adult summer reading program. This was a continuation of that collaboration. The library sponsored the tour and assisted in its development by assigning an intern to search local newspaper archives for crime stories during the target time period (1880s – 1930s).
Hidden Marietta was responsible for tour design, logistics and scripting. Hidden Marietta sorted through the crime reports the library provided and selected four murders and an assortment of robberies and instances of public intoxication for the tour. The stories had to work at various stops along our route and be representative of the parts of town we’d be walking through. The Prohibition stories, although interesting, didn’t really mesh with the other material. So we decided to drop those stories and narrow our timeframe to 1900.
Hidden Marietta suggested possible characters for each tour stop including a bartender, an inebriated bar patron, a nosy neighbor, a newspaper reporter, and a concerned city official. Each character, who would be costumed, would tell the tour goers what he or she knew about a specific crime. Unlike on murder mystery type events where only certain parts of the story are revealed, the Marietta Vice characters would give full first-hand reports of the crimes based on the historical news reports.
Paskawych Entertainment was responsible for program execution. Hidden Marietta handed over the tour route, character suggestions, crime details, and scripts. Final selection and assignment of specific characters was up to Paskawych Entertainment. They needed flexibility to accommodate actor, actress and costume availability.
The library, Hidden Marietta, and Paskawych Entertainment promoted the tour on their respective websites and via Twitter and Facebook. The library also developed a poster. The library’s Program Director appeared on local TV and was interviewed for a newspaper article about the program.
The library paid Hidden Marietta $500 to develop the tour and offer it twice. Hidden Marietta split that payment with Paskawych Entertainment. The library covered the minimal cost of producing posters and tickets. Each tour session was limited to 50 attendees who participated free of charge courtesy of the library.
The Marietta Vice tour was very well received. We tweaked the scripts for two stops, expanding one and shortening the other. The tour can now be booked by local groups as well as by bus tour operators visiting Marietta. It is being marketed by our Convention and Visitors’ Bureau.
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