BY PAT BLAIS
It's an unimaginable feat: To make a one-year transition from a prime murder suspect to a community's top cop.
But in the interest of clarity, Woburn Mayor Scott Galvin is poised to pull off such an unthinkable turnaround.
For the second year, the City Hall executive will join a host of other prominent city politicians and civic leaders to display his acting skills in the community's "Murder Mystery Dinner Theatre,” which last year became the Woburn Public Library's most successful fundraiser in recent memory.
The Nov. 2 event at the Hilton-Woburn Hotel off of Forbes Road, organized by the Woburn Public Library (WPL) Foundation and the Friends of the Woburn Public Library, enables engaged participants to enjoy a three-course dinner and play the part of police gumshoes in trying to solve the capital case. All of the proceeds from the evening of fund will go directly toward acquiring new technology for the library, where a major $31.5 million expansion project is quickly nearing its final phases.
During the event, a practical who's-who of prominent city officials will play out a scripted mystery involving a murder in the fictional Reindorf family, which has just eagerly gathered to see how much their dear Aunt Louise has left them in her will.
"There are some surprises in store for the heirs, one of which could lead to murder," teases a planned introduction to fundraiser attendees. "Sometime this evening, a crime will be committed, and you, the audience, will have the opportunity to solve this mystery…Take notes and keep track of the relationships of the various players."
According to WPL President Meghan Needham, in the tight-nit community of Woburn, where citizens turn out in droves to support dozens of local causes, library supporters experimented with the murder-mystery experience last year in an attempt to set the fundraiser apart from other charitable events.
With City Council President Richard Haggerty, School Committee Chairwoman Ellen Crowley, members of the Historical Society, and Woburn's top public safety chiefs all volunteering as actors, the event highlighted the broad range of support for the historic library, which is undergoing a major transformation as part of a $31.5 million expansion project.
What resulted was a sold-out event that proved so popular, there was chatter around the city for weeks.
Perhaps even more surprising, the mystery's cast of characters - including even the most reluctant of the group - told organizers they couldn't wait to return to the stage. Others, unable to attend, insisted they be given the chance to make a cameo in this year's performance.
"We wanted to do something different, and somebody came up with this idea. We thought, 'What better way to get everyone involved than to have them play a part?' said Needham. "Our hope was this would bring in a big chunk of money. It's now the biggest fundraiser of the year."
In a unique twist, during the introductory experiment with the murder-mystery, even organizers — who handed out the script to the cast of players just before the play started — were shocked to learn that the mayor's character was responsible for the imaginary murder.
"It really was tons of fun. Last year, we assigned the characters [kind of last minute], so when it came out, we were all laughing and saying, 'Oh my gosh, the killer is the mayor!!"
Considered by many to be the crowned jewel of Woburn's municipal assets, Woburn's historic library, designed by famed architect H.H. Richardson, is perched on a knoll overlooking both Woburn City Hall and the community's downtown area.
Dating back to 1879 and listed on both the state and federal registers of historic places, the community gathering spot has long-enjoyed broad financial support from both city officials and the public at large.
For decades, many in the city agreed the facility was in dire need of an upgrade, but given its status as a historical landmark and the difficulties posed in moving ahead with such an expansion, the project was routinely shelved.
The WPL Foundation, which has since its founding worked alongside the Friends of the Woburn Public Library, was established in 2013 with the aim of advocating for plans to tack a 2.5-story addition onto the historic library facade.
After some five years of debate, both Galvin and the City Council agreed to contribute $31.5 million for the building addition in 2015. Part of the city's cost is being offset by a near $10 million grant from the Mass. Board of Library Commissioners, while the WPL Foundation has agreed to steer another $3-to-$4 million in private donations towards the undertaking.
The new wing, expected to open to the general public next March, will allow for the creation of a new children's library and teen reading area, an updated reference and circulation desk, and a new upper mezzanine for non-fiction materials.
For the first time in decades, Woburn's librarians will also be able to prominently display a myriad of historical artifacts and art collections that have been stashed away in an attic storage space. Lastly, the approximate 50,000 square foot addition will allow for the creation of new private study and reading areas and enable the facility to be used as a community gathering space.
This summer, the City Council appropriated another $1 million towards the library project to cover the cost of new furniture and fixtures for the new addition, while city officials are also expected to bolster the library's operating budget in the coming years.
According to the organizers of the charitable event on November 2, those purchasing tickets for the murder-mystery fundraiser will be making a direct contribution towards the acquisition of new technology, including new laptops, tablets, and 3D printers, for the renovated space.
"Mayor Galvin has charged the [library's Board of Trustees] and its supporting organizations with the mission of raising $3 million to provide [equipment] that allows us to stay in the forefront of technology. With your support, our library will evolve as a key institution in the city's cultural life. You can make our mission possible," WPL Foundation members have explained in outreach efforts.
Those interested in purchasing tickets for the 'Reading of Aunt Louise's Will', which will include a three-course 'Dinner to Die For', raffles, and a cash bar, may pre-order their seats until October 26. Tickets will also be available at the door. The cost in advance is $55 a person, and tickets can be bought by logging onto https://thewplfoundation.org/murder-mystery-dinner-theatre-fundraiser-2/.
There will also be sales at the door of the hotel on November 2, but a $5 surcharge will be added to the $55 seat price. The event will take place between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., and will be held at the Hilton Hotel at 2 Forbes Road in Woburn.