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Smithsonian Channel uses Clear Spring's Plumb Grove Mansion to return to past

Documentary will be a three-part series currently called 'Smithsonian Civil War Treasure'

July 31, 2012|By CALEB CALHOUN | caleb.calhoun@herald-mail.com
  • Actor Fritz Klein portrays President Abraham Lincoln and Jennifer Mowbray portrays Mary Todd Lincoln Tuesday at Plumb Grove Mansion where they were being filmed for a Smithsonian Channel documentary.
By Kevin G. GIlbert, Staff Photographer

CLEAR SPRING — Clear Spring’s Plumb Grove Mansion took on the role of the Lincoln White House during filming Monday and Tuesday for a Civil War-themed documentary for the Smithsonian Channel.

The documentary will be a three-part series currently called “Smithsonian Civil War Treasure” shows created byWashington, D.C.-based television production company The Biscuit Factory.

The three shows document the experience of the Union, the experience of the Confederacy and the story of the ending of slavery. Filming at Plumb Grove involved re-creating a Civil War-era hospital for the show about the Union experience, according to Molly Hermann, producer, director and writer for The Biscuit Factory.

“Plumb Grove is the right period, it’s 90 minutes from Washington, and there’s beautiful countryside up here,” Hermann said. “Hospitals sprung up all over the place (during the war) because there were so many wounded and so few hospitals, and they were put in barns and temporary buildings and public buildings.”

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A barn behind the house was used as the hospital, Hermann said, and multiple scenes were shot there.

“We have striven to keep the mansion as realistic and as close to the 18th century as we possibly could,” Clear Spring District Historical Society President David Wiles said. “Our whole group was delighted when we found out the Smithsonian wanted to use our property.

“Our barn is a duplicate of the drawings that we saw of how the barn hospitals looked,” Wiles said. “We were stunned how realistic the hospital scenes are going to be in the movie.”

Scenes were being filmed in the mansion as a stand-in for the White House while Lincoln was president.

“We were looking for a campus location where we could do a couple of different things in one place,” Hermann said. “This location has good vistas, a great barn, is stuffed full of antiques and is a great house with Victorian interiors.”

The Biscuit Factory, started by Hermann and Rob Lyall, has produced multiple historical films for the Smithsonian Channel, including “Jefferson’s Secret Bible,” about a book Thomas Jefferson wrote focusing on the ethical teachings of Jesus; and “9/11: Stories in Fragments,” using simple objects that tell personal stories about the events of Sept. 11, 2001.

For the scenes being filmed at Plumb Grove, actors portrayed wounded soldiers, doctors and nurses from the Civil War during the filming, and Fritz Klein played Abraham Lincoln.

Klein, of Springfield, Ill., is a Lincoln re-enactor who travels the country performing as President Lincoln.

“This role is about Lincoln’s relationships with other people, especially in Washington,” Klein said. “There are some elements I do in here that relate to other people and some elements that don’t.”

Klein, 63, began acting as Lincoln full time in 1980. Before that, he was in landscaping and acted as a hobby. Born and raised in California, he lived in Hawaii during the 1970s before he began portraying Lincoln.

“The more I study Lincoln, the more I admire him,” he said. “He kept on in such a discouraging time and did not give up.”

Hagerstown resident Chris Utterback played the role of a surgeon in a medical hospital and said he feels at home performing in the re-enactment.

“This is where my family lives,” he said. “It makes me feel really good that I can do something at home for the community.”

Utterback, 56, said he is not a full-time re-enactor, but he will do it as a hobby.

“I’ve never played a surgeon before,” he said. “It’s doing something different. When my grandkids get older, they’ll see me reliving history.”

Filming was scheduled to end Tuesday. Crews and actors were out from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday at the site and at 7 a.m. again Tuesday, Hermann said.

In addition to the three shows being filmed, a single episode called “Lincoln’s War on Washington” will document how the Civil War changedWashington, D.C., and what the experience there was like during the war, Hermann said.

The shows are scheduled to air in the fall of 2013, she said.

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