Chicopee author highlights history of Mount Tom playhouse

Jan. 31, 2023 | Matt Conway
mconway@thereminder.com

Author Jacqueline T. Lynch
Photo Credit: Jacqueline T. Lynch

CHICOPEE – Author, playwright and historian Jacqueline T. Lynch is highlighting her historical deep dive on the history of Mount Tom’s former playhouse in a presentation on Feb. 7 at the South Hadley Senior Center at 5:30 p.m. The Chicopee-based writer will showcase an informational talk on her 2017 book “Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain: 70 years of Summer Theatre on Mt. Tom, Holyoke, Massachusetts.”

Along with writing various novels, Lynch has written several non-fiction books on New England history throughout her career. “State of Mind: New England” featured a collection of essays that reflected the gradual change occurring in the 19th and 20th century, while “The Ames Manufacturing Company of Chicopee, Massachusetts - A Northern Factory Town’s Perspective on the Civil War” spotlights the role of the former manufacturer as an overlooked cog in the American Civil War.

Lynch’s initial interest in writing began as a teenager. As she was preparing for high school, Lynch was immersed in the vast new world of adult literacy via her local library.

“That was an auspicious year for us as we got to graduate from the children’s library up to the adult library here in town. I got to read a lot more interesting books,” said Lynch in an interview with Reminder Publishing.

Lynch became engrossed in mystery novels from the likes of Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie. Their works inspired her to pursue her own iteration of a whodunit narratives.

“The first thing I ever attempted to write was a mystery … I never wanted to be a writer [beforehand], it’s just after I started writing this book, I became so engrossed,” said Lynch. While her first writing project was a trial experience, Lynch has since written a six-novel mystery series entitled “Double V Mysteries.”

Lynch was also enamored by history in her youth. She would enthusiastically ask her parents about their experiences in growing up in 1920s and 1930s America while also gaining additional insights from engaging with period-era artifacts.

“History has always been very important and very fascinating to me … History was the context to everything I learned, whether it was family history, or old movies and books. I realized that it was the backdrop of our lives, that we weren’t born in a vacuum,” said Lynch.

With “Comedy and Tragedy on the Mountain,” Lynch said the writing project was “on the back burner for a long time.” A primary source for the novel was documents discovered by Lynch at the Holyoke Public Library from the person who ran the Mount Tom theater company for two decades.

“He left all his papers to the library … [The library] had this wealth of material through its heyday of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. It was just dumb luck that it was all there,” said Lynch.

Lynch also compiled numerous interviews with significant subjects from the theater’s history. She spoke to producers, performers and journalists who provided insight on the playhouse’s history.

“One of the great joys of the book was interviewing people who themselves were personally involved … They had wonderful stories about some of these big Hollywood stars that came through,” said Lynch.

Oscar nominated actor Hal Holbrook was one of the prominent actors who originated at the Mount Tom playhouse. Lynch shared that Holbrook began his illustrious run of performances portraying Mark Twain at Mount Tom.

“He worked up this one man play on Mark Twain. He came back in 1957 to do the first show of the season on Mount Tom, and it was his play. He did his first full version up there. As they say, the rest is history,” said Lynch. Holbrook would later win a Tony award for his Twain performance after taking the one-man show to Broadway.

Lynch discussed the overlooked impact that the Mount Tom playhouse had. She said the theater possessed a unique charm compared to most playhouses that are located in affluent communities.

“Here you had this little playhouse in the middle of a mountain park on the top of a mountain at the edge of a New England factory town. It wasn’t like other very popular summer theaters … It was just this wonderful little oasis. It really was the backbone of the community.” said Lynch.

Lynch said the theater’s success also became a local cultural phenomenon.

“A lot of people today may have forgotten about it, but it was extremely popular in its day. Everybody knew about it and everybody from all over the [Pioneer Valley] went to it. In the days before TV really caught on, the people who were part of the resident community who came back every summer got to be as popular as TV stars around here,” said Lynch.

Along with her literary career, Lynch is also a member of the Chicopee Historical Society. Their first event of the year, “The History of the New England Maple Sugar Harvest,” will take place on March 14 at the Chicopee Public Library.

Readers can learn more about Lynch and her works at http://www.jacquelinetlynch.com/.

Share this: