Play, exhibit capture a unique Springfield woman’s story

Lucy Culler may not be the most recognizable name in Springfield history. Her story, though, may be one of the most touching and memorable.

Culler was a woman ahead of her time who was as passionate about her writing as she was her family in the late 19th and early 20th Century. “A Walk in Ferncliff: A Mother’s Day Tale,” captures a special time in her life and includes the impact of two local institutions on her.

The play, written by local historian and former Springfield News-Sun writer Tom Stafford, will be presented at 7 p.m. Friday, May 13 and 8 p.m. Saturday, May 14 on the second floor of The Heritage Center of Clark County, 117 S. Fountain Ave.

Friday’s event will also coincide with the opening of a new exhibit on Culler’s writings.

This is the fourth in Stafford’s “Spotlight on History” series he’s written for the Heritage Center.

“Tom has been very generous with his time. It’s a fantastic tie-in to what we’re about,” said Bridget Doane, the Heritage Center’s director of development.

Stafford called Culler a “force of nature,” discovering her story 15 years ago when he found one of her books while his wife was antique shopping.

In Culler, Stafford discovered a history fanatic’s dream. During an era where women were mostly confined to homemaking, she helped redefine a woman’s role, balancing family life and while becoming part of a late 19th Century women’s literary movement and other non-traditional roles.

As a writer, Culler was ahead of her time, sharing her opinions on the threat of emerging technology, her hatred of housework and world events.

The play will focus on a 1911 episode when Culler traveled from Springfield to Newton, Iowa to bring back the coffin of her firstborn daughter, Alice, to be reburied in Ferncliff Cemetery so she could place a flower on it whenever she wished.

Along with Ferncliff, Wittenberg College, as it was then known, will also play a role. It was where the Rev. Jacob Culler, Lucy’s husband, got his divinity degree. Doane said the Cullers lived just down the street from the Heritage Center.

This will also mark the first collaboration between the Heritage Center and Springfield Civic Theatre on the play.

“This is a little different for us,” Doane said. “Any time we can combine with other arts and culture institutions it’s a good thing.”

The past three series plays explored topics such as the history of Crowell Collier, the Newsweek Magazine American Dream profile from 1983 and the impact of the Civil War in Springfield.

Admission to Friday’s events is $25 or $20 for Clark County Historical Society members and can be reserved at 937-324-0657. It begins at 7 p.m. with the exhibit opening and reception featuring complimentary hors d’oeuvres followed by the play at 8 p.m.

Admission for Saturday’s performance only is $10 and tickets can be purchased in advance or at the door. Proceeds will benefit the Clark County Historical Society.

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