The Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Virginia is for Lovers slogan June 25 with a living history dramatization called “Virginia’s Greatest Love Story.”
Drawing from letters between Wytheville native Edith Bolling Galt and President Woodrow Wilson, the play portrays the courtship between the two and depicts Edith’s journey from Wytheville to the Washington, D.C., and then to the Whitehouse.
Betsy Ely and Jim Gearhart, who regularly portray the first couple at local events, will take the stage at the Wolfahrt Haus Dinner Theatre. Ely and Gearhart will be joined by Alyssa Irvin, who will take on the role of young Edith. Holly Montgomery will also join the cast as Edith’s older sister, Bertha, and Lon Tobin will narrate.
“I think it’s going to be a memorable event and I think people are really going to enjoy it,” said museum director Chris Burton. “It has humor, it has romance and it has history, so I think people are going to walk away enjoying the performance, but also learning a thing or two.”
Visitor services coordinator April Danner largely credits Ely for pulling the performance together. With her extensive knowledge of Edith’s history and a background as a high school forensics coach, Ely was able to go through a book containing the couple’s letters and pick out the ones that best told the story of first couple’s courtship.
A similar portrayal was performed at the museum for Valentine’s Day, but both Danner and Burton say next week’s performance is much broader and believe guests will appreciate the second adaption just as much as, if not more than the first.
“If anybody came to the event that we had in February, they would still like this event,” Burton said. “They’re similar, but they’re still very different.”
Naturally, the performance will have some focus on the town Edith called home as a child. As the performance begins, “Little Edith” will educate the crowd on what it was like growing up poor in Wytheville in the post-Civil War period.
Even the deserts to be served have some historical meaning behind them. Danner explained that in Edith’s memoir, the former first lady writes about her grandmother’s pralines and coconut balls. Chewy fudge pralines and coconut bonbons will be served during Tuesday’s performance. Edible versions of the trademark orchids sent to Edith Galt from President Wilson during their courtship will also be served, as well as an apple spark cake, which is referenced by former First Lady Jane Pierce.
Both widowed at the time, Galt and Wilson met and married in 1915. On their first date after their engagement, Wilson threw the opening pitch at a World Series game. In honoring that event, Ely and Gearhart will attend the Pulaski Yankee’s game against the Bluefield Blue Jays Saturday, where Gearhart will throw the opening pitch.
Edith Galt and Woodrow Wilson were married Dec. 18, 1915. During her time as first lady, Edith Wilson played a critical role in the running of the nation after the president’s stroke in 1919. Today, she is often referred to as “the secret president” or the “first lady president.”
After Woodrow Wilson’s death in 1924, Edith Bolling Wilson spent her days promoting her late husband’s legacy, at times travelling to Europe to honor his vision of the failed League of Nations.
Celebrations for the Golden Anniversary of the Virginia Tourism Commission’s slogan will bring special events and promotions throughout the commonwealth.
“This plays into it so beautifully,” Danner said. “Both of these folks were native Virginians, of course, and it was a public romance, so it’s just perfect.”
Advanced tickets can be purchased online at www.edithbollingwilson.org or at the Edith Bolling Wilson Birthplace Museum at 145 East Main St. in Wytheville. Tickets include the performance, dessert and tea or coffee.
Jasmine Dent Franks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go:
What: Virginia’s Greatest Love Story
Where: The Wohlfarht Haus Dinner Theatre
When: 7 p.m.