Sybil Ludington movie may be near

(Original publication: September 26, 2005)

KENT — Many of the miles Sybil Ludington galloped as she roused her father's troops to repel the British remain similar to what they were that rainy night in April 1777: lined in places by massive maples and oaks, bisected by trickling streams and bordered by stone walls.

Segments with those features — not the double-yellow lines or the building-boom streets with names such as Deer Court — could appear on the big screen. Charles Welty, a California businessman, is about halfway through trying to turn Sybil's story into a movie. With finished script in hand (plus two sequels ready to go), financing secured and casting on his mind, Welty was in Putnam County last week touring the 16-year-old's route and visiting the site of her family's mill. He's pledged $100,000 to the restoration of the mill, which was just north of the Hess station on Route 52 in Kent.

Union requirements, he said, make filming on location too expensive. So far, the movie's budget is about $15 million and most of the work will occur on sound stages, either in Illinois or North Carolina. Local scenes will be limited to shots of her route and the restored mill, situated next to the Exit 17 off ramp from eastbound Interstate 84. Filming should begin in the spring.

"I'm doing that because I want to honor the place," said Welty, who once worked in radio and has written several other scripts.

Welty also is the chief executive officer of SWANsat, a satellite communications company.

"I'm not a big guy. I'm a small guy," Welty said, standing near the teenager's statue overlooking Lake Gleneida in Carmel. "But with the right support, we can make this work."

Two years after Paul Revere sounded his warning, Sybil rode throughout the Putnam countryside to call out the men under the command of her father, Col. Henry Ludington. They were needed to help defend Danbury, Conn., where the British were burning buildings and supplies destined for the Colonial army.

Sybil's supporters point out that unlike Revere, she rode alone, used back roads and completed her mission. Revere was arrested, at times accompanied by two other men and stuck to well-traveled routes. Welty said he learned about Sybil during a 2001 visit to the Daughters of the American Revolution Library in Washington. He was looking for a story about a heroine to share with his daughters.

"I thought, 'Why doesn't the country know about her?' " he said.

Soon afterward, he started writing "Ludington's Ride" and contacting local historians.

"I'm tickled pink he's here," said Richard Othmer Jr., the president of the Kent Historical Society. "Until now, he's been a voice on the other end of the phone. I said, 'I'll believe it when I see you here.' "

The society owns the mill, which is just an incomplete stone foundation now, and is acquiring the upstream mill pond. More than 200 years ago, the water powered the crushing of grain into flour for George Washington's army.

"There's a big boulder up in the stream there where you can see the sluiceway started," Othmer said, as he stood next to the waterway with Welty.

A section of pre-interstate Ludingtonville Road runs along the stream and dead-ends in the woods.

"Visually, it's marvelous," Welty said, sweeping his arm along the old road.

Welty's interpretation of Sybil's life includes a few liberties, such as adding a love interest and having her struggle with a local bandit. Her on-screen beau is Edmond Ogden — the man she marries in real life but doesn't actually meet until several years later. Sybil, widowed and a mother, became a tavern keeper in Greene County.

Betty Behr, a lifelong Kent resident and a member of the Kent Historical Society, joined Othmer, Welty and others at the mill last week.

She said she expects the movie will "eventually get made" but didn't think it needed to be spruced up for Hollywood.

"She had an exciting enough life as it was," said Behr, 73.


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Monday, September 26, 2005