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Evy Nordley Candidate Profile #4: Friends of the Austin Public Library

On January 26, 2019, the notorious Northern Austin Mob Outfit faced off against their bitter rivals – the South Side Gangsters – on the neutral ground of the Austin Public Library.

mowever.pngIf this sounds more like an old story ripped from a bygone headline, that’s because it is… sort of. The Friends of the Austin Public Library manufactured this confrontation as a plotline in its inaugural Murder Mystery Dinner fundraiser.

These two gang syndicates never really existed, but the storied Prohibition Era in which they operated certainly did. When the Board of the Friends first floated themes back in June 2018, the Roaring Twenties stood out as the perfect backdrop for this inaugural program.

For historical verisimilitude, as well as cost effectiveness, The Friends then sought a community partner to co-host this fundraiser. After exploring all options, they entered into an agreement with the Hormel Historic Home (HHH). Located five minutes down the road from the Library, this Italianate residence was once home to George Albert Hormel, founder of the Hormel Foods Corporation. It operates today as an independent not-for-profit.

The match-up seemed logical to The Friends. They already collaborated with the HHH on a monthly series, the aptly named History Happy Hour. Past offerings have ranged from evenings with the likes of author Walt Whitman and 1880s baseball legend Billy Sunday, to off-site excursions – including walking and bus tours.

For the Murder Mystery Dinner, the Hormel Historic Home agreed to wave venue rental fees and to assist with ticketing.

In order to populate this 1920s version of Austin, organizers then turned to the Mower County theatre community. Approximately twenty actors from the Summerset Community Theatre and Riverland Community College theatre department agreed to take part, free of charge.

In yet another move to control costs, The Friends opted to offer hors d’oeuvres in place of a full, plated dinner.

In a cheeky nod to Prohibition theme, they branded a cash bar as a speakeasy, and discreetly offered each attendee a teacup of champagne. The caterer not only played along, but offered The Friends a 20 percent discount off their services as a donation to the organization.

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Tickets to the Murder Mystery Dinner sold out in less than two weeks, thanks in part to aggressive advertising supplied by the HHH. Radio promotions, plus a poster campaign around Austin, also played a role. All told, the night netted a profit of $923 to The Friends.

“The number one surprise was seeing how many people wanted to come again – and how many who didn’t attend and want us to do it again after hearing how much fun the night was,” said organizer Bethie Carlton.

They may indeed reprise the event at some point… which doesn’t augur well for the new and fragile accord between the Northern Austin Mob Outfit and South Side Gangsters!