Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

The new Footlight Theatre Company will begin its new monthly dinner-theater series in Columbia State Historic Park just in time for Valentine's Day.

On Saturday, "Footlight Murders" will debut with a miner's tale of love - and of a solid gold, heart shaped nugget of death.

"The Curse of the Nugget of Love" is set in 1864, when a cobbler from Columbia named Kicker Goodman saw business fall off as gold became harder to find.

He was forced to go to work in the Cruel Springs Mine just to support his young fianceé. When a heart shaped gold nugget was pulled from the main vein of the mine, Goodman made a poorchoice. In a crime of passion, he stole the nugget and planned to run away with his true love to live happily ever after.

Nobody can truly say what happened at the Goodman cabin that fateful day when Sheriff Ellerbe went to investigate, but when authorities went to the house later on, the sheriff, Goodman and his sweetheart were all found dead and the stolen nugget was nowhere to be found. Thought to be lost forever, the nugget became legend, and the legend begot a curse - that anyone who should find it, touch it or possess it - would die. Over the years the story was forgotten and no one ever gave it a thought … until three weeks ago when the cursed nugget was rediscovered.

This valuable piece of solid gold is to be sold at a small private auction on Saturday evening. There are a few parties however, who claim rights to the nugget, a few who protest the auction for their own reasons and a few who would just do anything to add the legendary gold to their collection.

Motive, comedy, romance, murder and suspense abound in this dinner show experience, the first in Footlight Theatre's new monthly series of murder mysteries in Columbia State Historic Park.

Guests will attempt to solve the mystery and catch a killer among an evening of fine wine, music and dining.

At Footlight Murders, the action is constant and anyone can be a suspect. In this fully interactive dinner show, guests can expect some scripted scenes, but never can tell when spontaneous, murderous drama might erupt throughout the night.

A typical Footlight Murder will begin with an "interrogation reception" hosted by a local featured winery, which will serve as a chance for guests to meet some of the characters and learn the premise of the evening's story.

After all have arrived at the reception and have had a chance to mingle, guests will sit down to a dinner served by Columbia House Restaurant. From there, one just can't tell what might happen.

The story will unfold throughout town, and guests will have a chance to gather clues engage in various contests and win prizes.

Toward the end of the evening, guests themselves will become detectives - and a few might be suspects - and all will try to solve the crime, with awards going to the best sleuth and more.

Each mystery will begin with the "interrogation reception" at 5:30 p.m. Dinner will be served around 6 p.m. and the evening will conclude around 9 p.m., with music and dancing until 10 p.m.

Every month will feature a new menu, a different local winery and live music. Footlight will also pair up with different merchants and venues every month to keep the night's events unpredictable for every show, guaranteeing a new experience each time for even regular guests.

February's mystery will begin at Angelo's Hall and conclude at the Jack Douglass Saloon.

"We believe Columbia State Park is the perfect place for our new murder mystery series," said Artistic Director Anthony De Page. "The old Wild West environment of the town has a mysterious aura of its own that can only add to the possibilities of what we can do there. "On top of that, this is another great way to highlight and bring tourism to the historically rich town of Columbia."

Executive director Kendra Burlison noted that Footlight Murders is also available for custom mysteries at corporate or private events.

"Each Mystery is tailored specifically to your occasion and many options are available," she said.

For more information or to book a mystery, call 588-6441.

Tickets for monthly mysteries are available at or by calling 728-8072. For more information or to order the vegetarian menu option, call 728-8072.

Tickets are $42 each or $80 per couple and must be reserved 48 hours in advance.

Transferrable season passes are also available.