Quebec's urban legend about the Beatles comes to the stage
STANSTEAD -- Sitting half in Stanstead, and half in Derby Line, VT., the Haskell Free Library and Opera House has long been an international meeting place, where Canadian and American citizens can mingle freely across the border line drawn on the floor -- as long as they return to the proper country afterwards.
But the most talked-about meeting in the border-straddling Victorian-style building is one that never happened at all.
When writer Ross Murray moved to Stanstead in 1992, he became fascinated with an outlandish local legend: that The Beatles had almost met at the Opera House in the early 1970s to discuss a reunion tour.
The rumour, which has persisted despite a lack of evidence it ever happened, is the subject of Murray's play, "All Together Now", which mixes history and fiction to create a comedic homage to the library and the unique realities of his border town -- where in places a line of flower pots is all that separates Canada and the United States.
"It really is a magical place, this library itself, because it serves two communities in two countries," Murray said, before correcting himself.
"No it serves one community in two countries."
Murray's play, subtitled "The possibly true story of a thing that almost happened," includes some historical town characters, including the local librarian and mayor. The Beatles, like in real life, never make an appearance.
"The play is not ultimately about the Beatles rumour, it's about people connecting in the library," he said.
Murray said Stanstead and Derby Line residents are used to being portrayed by journalists and other outsiders, who are drawn to their flower-pot border and commitment to maintaining a community that crosses national boundaries, despite the fact that residents can no longer wander across the border as freely as they used to.
But he said it's rare they get to see themselves depicted by one of their own.
"One town really just flowed into the other, and there was a lot more back and forth between the community, the people, organizations," he said.
"That's the beautiful thing to me, and the play celebrates that fact that we are one community, and we still are despite the barriers that have been put up over the last decade, decade-and-a-half."
The play is being performed this Friday, Saturday and Sunday by Borderline Players, which is made up of community theatre enthusiasts hailing from both sides of the border.
John Young, who plays three characters, including the U.S. Border Patrol agent narrator, said Thursday it's special to perform in the Opera House, an ornately decorated heritage building that was built in 1904 deliberately straddling the border.
"It was intentionally done to serve two communities, this way, and as a significant emblem of friendship between our two countries," he said Thursday as he prepared to rehearse on the Opera House's stage, which had been transformed to look like the library one floor below.
Leanne Harple, a theatre teacher, plays librarian Adelaide Prangley. Harple, who like Young is from nearby Glover, Vt., remembers hearing about the rumoured Beatles meeting when she was young.
"I would like to believe it actually did happen and there's this huge cover up," she said with a laugh.
Stanstead, a sleepy town of quaint historic cottages and well-kept gardens, where patrolling RCMP SUVs provide the only visible signs of heightened security, seems an unlikely meeting place for Britain's Fab Four.
But Murray insists the scenario isn't that far-fetched.
For a period in 1973, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were each facing drug charges, which would have left Lennon reluctant to exit the United States and McCartney unable to enter. The Haskell Library, where citizens of both countries can circulate without a passport, would have been the perfect place to "subvert the border," he said.
"So if they had wanted to have a meeting, this would have been a great spot for it," Murray said.
But after researching local sources and contacting prominent Beatles historians, Murray concluded that not only did the meeting not happen, there's no concrete evidence it was even planned.
He also reached out to McCartney's representative, who did not answer.
But despite the lack of evidence of the meeting, Murray isn't quite ready to dismiss the local legend.
He said several former residents, including the former librarian, swore it was planned, and there are enough written mentions of it to make him believe there's something to the rumour.
"Where there's smoke there's fire," Murray said, echoing one of Young's lines in the play.