Spying on history

History Channel project filmed in Hagerstown

History Channel project filmed in Hagerstown

September 17, 2004|by TAMELA BAKER

Clad in 19th-century suit and boots, Russell Richards Jr. escaped from a stuffy inner room of the Alsatia Club building in downtown Hagerstown and made a beeline for makeup man Jim Choate.

"Hey Jim," he called, stroking the false mustache attached to his upper lip, "can you get this nasty stuff off me?"

For Richards, chief executive officer of Historical Entertainment, it was just another day of shooting here in Hager-wood.

This time, he was working with Greystone Productions on a television project for The History Channel. The program, a two-hour special called "Secret Missions of the Civil War," chronicles four lesser-known incidents from the conflict. The Alsatia Club and the Miller House, right next door, are serving as backdrops for the tale of Confederate conspirators who in 1864 plotted to burn down New York City.


Vintage buildings and miles of as yet unspoiled scenery have given Hagerstown and Washington County what Convention and Visitors Bureau President Tom Riford calls "positive notoriety" in the entertainment industry.

Greystone producer Rannveigh Krokdal relished the chance to work outside Los Angeles. "People here are so helpful and friendly," she said.

Krokdal and director Darryl Rehr, a Baltimore native who also wrote the script, were downtown Wednesday scoping out shots and angles. Rooms in the Alsatia Club and the Miller House would provide the setting for the plotters finalizing their plans - and for the ill-fated attempt to destroy several New York landmarks.

"It's an awfully good story," Rehr said as he surveyed the Miller House, "and not one that is often told."

The 2001 attacks on New York and Washington had renewed interest in the story of what was likely "the first terrorist attack on the city," he said. Although the official air date hasn't been set, Rehr said he expects "Secret Missions" to be broadcast sometime next spring.

Krokdal peppered the Miller House staff with questions - "where will the actors change?" - and assured everyone that the crew would simulate smoke and fire with lighting and a fog machine. "We won't actually set the bedsheets on fire," she promised.

Shooting was in full swing at the Alsatia Club on Thursday afternoon. Front rooms of the building were transformed into antebellum sitting rooms. Back rooms sported racks of Victorian clothing and tables laden with makeup or snacks.

Krokdal pointed at Richards. "He's making it all happen," she said.

In fact, Richards and his Cascade-based company are responsible for bringing a number of productions like this one to the area, providing sites, casting, props and costumes.

"We found a niche in the market that nobody was filling," he said.

In its third year, Historical Entertainment already has a long list of credits ranging from feature films such as "Cold Mountain" and "Gods and Generals" to documentaries for PBS, The Discovery Channel and the National Park Service.

"I try to bring them all here to Washington County," he said.

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