A ghostly cemetery tour brings Washington town history to life
WASHINGTON -- The wind blew out the candlelight on the path, but the cloaked figures kept going. A stop -- the sun long down, the temperature dropped -- at a gravestown where Gregory Seely Bryan, town hall’s namesake, stood next to his plot, his body.
Bryan was shivering. But wasn’t he supposed to be dead?
Bryan was among the 11 town cemetery residents who came to life Friday night for the 9th annual Washington Green Cemetery Tour put together by the Gunn Historical Museum.
“The way you want to learn about history is through the words of the people who lived it,” said Louise van Tartwijk, the museum’s director. “Not through textbooks.”
So every year, the museum's volunteers comb through folders, files, journals and diaries -- all in the 11,000- to 13,000-piece archive -- to find some townies they can bring to life in time for Halloween. Then more volunteers, from Washington, surrounding towns and even Shepaug Valley High School, come together to act and guide some 300 folks through the cemetery.
Every year is a new theme, and this year, for “uncommon tales from common folks,” visitors met a man accused of murder, a “ladies man” lawn mower, a Jimi Hendrix roadie, and a Russian singer among others who were all six-feet-under in the small, sleepy town before volunteer actors brought them to life.
Bryan, who left a trust to the town to build town hall, died after a trip to China in the early 1900s. He had cut himself shaving, Actor Dana Jackson told a crowd. The cut, made with a straight razor, soon became infected.
“Never fail to appreciate a safety razor,” Jackson, as Bryan, said.
Though the tour is just an hour, it takes months to get it together, said Sandy Booth a volunteer who spearheads the tour. She has been working on this year’s rendition since summer, she added.
“It’s not quite scary, but very interesting,” Booth said. The production takes 100s of volunteer hours to even have it ready for a chilly, dark night, she said. Then the day of the tour, volunteers are out from 8 a.m. to late in the evening getting everything ready, she added.
“I’m gonna be on the couch all day tomorrow,” she said.
For visitors, such as school children, Washington residents and out-of-towners, the volunteers’ hard work makes for a “can’t miss” outing.
“We wouldn’t miss it for the world,” said Joe Chapman, bundled-up next to his wife Claudia Friday night. They had just finished the tour, having made the trip from Southbury for the event for the ninth time.
“It was great for us,” Claudia said. “But I know it was even better for Washington people.” Some of them knew several of the previously dead characters, she added.
She was right. One of the 11 actors on Friday was Norman Bird, wearing his grandfather’s tweed jacket and vest.
“He was such a great guy,” Bird said of Fred Hasler, who he played on the tour. “I just wanted to share him.”