Wyoming native pens two act drama

Joyce Robertson

Inspired by true events, The Aracoma Story Incorporated will present the two-act drama “Mamie” at the historic Coalfield Jamboree theater in Logan in October.

Written by Oceana native Joyce Robertson, the drama is the story of Mamie Thurman, an attractive young woman who was brutally murdered in 1932.

“I had never heard of Mamie Thurman until maybe 20 years ago, and then all that I knew was that she was a woman who had been murdered in Logan in the 1930s and that her ghost supposedly haunts the area,” Robertson said.

The idea for the play came just after Robertson had joined the The Aracoma Story Board of Directors.

“While discussing future shows with a fellow board member, she mentioned that her husband had always said that he would enjoy seeing a play about Mamie Thurman.

“As I said before, I really didn’t know much about her, but I thought that was a fantastic idea. Local history, mystery, true story, even a ghost – it has it all.

“I often joke that Mamie rode home with me that night, because I could not get her off my mind. I just knew that would be a great play.

“I came home, researched her that night on the internet. There was not much to read about her then. The next day, I went to the local library and researched some more, and then went to the local community college and read news articles about the murder and trial from the local newspaper.

“Then, I sat down at my computer and wrote; three months later, I had a finished play.”

Robertson also researched the city, clothing styles and music of the late 1920s and '30s.

“The play is inspired by true events, so we strive to make everything look authentic to that time,” she explained.

After she was given a transcript of the trial, she made several additions to the story.

“Many people have read books and articles about Mamie Thurman, but few have had the opportunity to read the trial transcript,” she said.

“I believe that Mamie had experienced a lot of childhood trauma. Her childhood was troubled. Her mother died when she was very young. Her siblings were living in an orphanage, so she must have felt some guilt or sadness about that. But, she was also considered very good-looking and she was very popular.

“She was an employee of a car dealership in Logan for a while and worked at a bank for a while, so she was a 'modern woman' in the early 20th century,” Robertson said.

“I think she was possibly depressed or experiencing post-traumatic stress – a diagnosis that would not have been made in 1932.

“I think she self-medicated with booze and men.

“When she first moved to Logan, she was considered a respectable lady. Perhaps she had everyone fooled, because it became known that she was quite promiscuous.”

As for who killed Mamie Thurman, Robertson, like most everyone else who is familiar with the story, has her suspicions.

“When I first wrote the play, I felt that Harry Robertson must have at least had a part in her murder. I do believe that Clarence (Stephenson) helped to get rid of her body, but I don’t believe he acted alone.

“Clarence would have done anything to help the Robertsons,” she emphasized. “He lived in their home, so I’m sure he appreciated them.

“Later, I believed that Jack, her husband, killed her — or knew who did. He was a city policeman who worked the night shift, so he certainly had to know where she was every night.

“He came home from work the morning of June 22 to find her missing, made a half-hearted attempt to find her, then went to sleep at 10 in the morning.

“If he loved her, or didn’t already know where she was, how could he just go to sleep?

“But now, I believe that Louise Robertson either caused her death or knew something about it. 'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned...' Clarence would have done anything for Louise,” she noted.

Will audience members come to the same conclusion?

“When we did the play before (in 2015), we placed a ballot box in the 'lobby' of the theater and asked people to vote on who they thought was the killer. The majority thought Harry was the culprit.

“I’ve made a few additions to the story since then, so perhaps the majority may think differently this time,” she said.

“In a way, it can be a history lesson,” Roberston said of the production. “In 1932, the country was in a depression and prejudice was common. The jury of the trial was made up of all men – all white men.

“Mamie, herself, was pretty much put on trial.

“There was no internet, nor television, so people relied heavily on newspapers and radio for the news of the trial, which attracted national interest, and gossip for the 'good stuff.'

“If nothing else, I think there will be interesting discussions about the story."

“Mamie” will be presented at the historic Coalfield Jamboree in Logan Oct. 4, 5, 11, 12, 18, and 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Oct. 6, 13, and 20 at 3 p.m. Tickets are available at brownpapertickets.com.

For more information, phone 304-752-0253.

• • • 

Robertson grew up in Oceana and is a 1968 graduate of Oceana High School.

The daughter of Bill and Bea Taylor, she has two brothers, Mark and Bill, and a sister, Mary White.

“It was a wonderful place to live and go to school,” Robertson said. “One story that comes to mind is when I was a freshman in high school, I belonged to a club called The Juniorettes. It was a service club and an auxiliary of the Oceana Woman’s Club. We did service projects and had fundraisers.

“Once, we hosted a Roaring Twenties Dance and sold tickets to raise money for projects.

“I can remember my mother sewing a red dress and adding rows of fringe to the bottom. I thought it was beautiful and so much fun to wear! The dance was a big success.

“When we produced 'Mamie' in 2015, the Aracoma Story, Inc. kicked-off the promotional campaign by hosting a Speakeasy Party where the décor, music and costumes reflected the late 1920s and 1930s. It was a great evening and reminded me of our little Roaring Twenties Dance from high school,” she recalled.

She and her husband, Jack, have lived near Man, in Logan County, for nearly 50 years. They have two daughters, Michelle Akers and Amy Isaly, and four grandchildren, Connor Akers, Jackson Akers, Taylor Isaly, and Cruz Isaly.

Robertson enjoys being part of The Aracoma Story Incorporated.

“I’ve said many times that I feel that The Aracoma Story, and our amphitheater, is the jewel in the crown of Chief Logan State Park and the whole county.

“The Aracoma Story is community theater that relies heavily on volunteers, grants and donations, and we produce quality entertainment on a budget.

“Many talented and hard-working people come together to sell tickets, build sets, make costumes, promote shows and present dramas and musicals such as Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “Deadly Divide – The Hatfield & McCoy Story,” “The Aracoma Story,” and “Mamie.”

• • • 

Robertson has since written another play, “Coal,” based on the events of the Battle of Blair Mountain.

“In 1921, Logan County, W.Va., coal miners were non-union and worked long hours in dangerous conditions, paid for their own mining supplies, lived in houses owned by the coal companies, and were paid per mined ton in the coal companies’ own currency, called script, which could only be spent at the coal companies’ owned stores.

“Thousands of union miners marched toward Logan and Mingo Counties in an effort to organize them; but first, they had to battle the companies’ hired Baldwin-Felts detectives, Logan County Sheriff Don Chafin’s 'deputies' and even United States federal troops on Blair Mountain, in Logan County.”

The story centers on the Coleman family, and “their constant suffering, immeasurable determination, and unending courage and strength.”

“Coal” was awarded second place in the 2019 West Virginia Writers Contest.

“I am hoping that 'Coal' will be produced next summer at The Liz Spurlock Amphitheater, in Chief Logan State Park, to commemorate the 99th anniversary of the battle of Blair Mountain,” Robertson said.

“At this time, I do not have any plans for another play; but, who knows? I didn’t have any plans for the other two either!” she joked.

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