The Libby Follies Breakout

Ingeniously conceived by Captain Jonathan Franklin Hale, what came to be known as “The Libby Follies Breakout” remains undeniably the second greatest escape plot  of the entire Civil War. The plan called for several coordinated phases.  In Phase One, a musical Christmas extravaganza entitled “Mary’s OpporTune Outing” (authored by Hale) was to serve as a distraction  while conspirators planted a small decoy explosive in the far (western) wall of the prison.  In Phase Two, the decoy would detonate, sending the guards  to investigate.  Phase Three entailed a  larger explosion blasting a hole in the eastern wall, through which Hale and his men would escape in their costumes, which would then serve as diguises for (Phase Four) their trip out of enemy territory. Unfortunately all did not go according to plan.  Because Hale’s show was such a success, the constant applause drowned out the sound of the decoy blast, and it was only the larger detonation that sent the jailers hurrying to investigate.  The resourceful Hale, however, quickly adapted to the new circumstances and directed his men to the decoy instead, which had created a hole just large enough to allow the egress of one person at a time.  Unfortunately Hale was wounded boosting his last man through, and consequently was himself not amongst the escapees.  But although the breakout cannot therefore be adjudged entirely successful, Hale’s show was by all accounts a tremendous hit, and was spoken about enthusiastically for years to come by all who had witnessed it — Union prisoners and Confederate guards alike.  Thankfully, most of the score, along with the script and many of Hale’s sketches and notes for Mary’s OpporTune Outing were spirited out of Libby Prison with Captain Quincy Lecompte and Major General Francis B. Till (two of the escapees), and survive to this day (examples included below, courtesy of  Roger McEntyre, History Dept., Penn State, Scranton.)

Click on the player below to listen to the overture for Mary’s OpporTune Outing:

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MOO showbill

Showbill cover and credits page

Costume designs: Joseph and Mary

Costume designs: Joseph and Mary

Showbill, interior pages

Showbill, interior pages

Set design sketch

Set design ideas sketch

Set design: The Nativity

Set design: The Nativity

Script pages

Script pages

Costume design: Shepherdesses

Costume design: Shepherdesses

Costume design: Sheep

Costume design: Sheep

Rehearsal notes

Rehearsal notes

Costume design: Star and Angel

Costume design: Star and Angel

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