CAZENOVIA — The Cazenovia Preservation Foundation (CPF) will present its popular Walk Among the Spirits (WATS) living history tours on Oct. 26, 27, and 28.
Brave guests of all ages will be guided by lantern light among the headstones of the historic Evergreen Cemetery, where they will encounter several “spirits” willing to share their tales of adventure and intrigue and their knowledge of Cazenovia’s past.
“It’s a little spooky to be out walking in the cemetery at night in October, following the route by lantern light,” said CPF Executive Director Jen Wong. “It’s probably something that you wouldn’t do on your own, but it’s not scary like a typical Halloween haunted house event.”
In preparation for WATS, CPF collaborates with the Cazenovia Public Library to research Cazenovia’s early residents and determine who will “haunt” the cemetery and share their stories.
This year, returning volunteer actor Cindy Bell Tobey will portray the ghost of Julia Burdin (1866-1951), the wife of Henry Burdin, who, incidentally, was played by Tobey’s real-life husband at last year’s WATS.
According to an Oct. 5 CPF press release announcing the 2023 WATS, several of Julia’s journals were recently provided to the Cazenovia Public Library Archives by her descendants.
“Mrs. Tobey will have ample source material upon which to draw in portraying the strong, independent Mrs. Burdin,” the press release states.
Tobey’s husband, Jim, will return to WATS as Jeremiah Whipple (1766-1840), who was a Revolutionary War veteran, a carpenter, and the town’s first sheriff.
In 1796, Whipple built “Rose Hill” on Chenango Street next to Chittenango Creek. The home, which was originally a saltbox Colonial, underwent a major renovation in 1818 that resulted in its current Greek Revival façade.
Pat Carmeli, another returning WATS actress, will portray circus performer and wild animal trainer Lucia “Zora” Card Alispach (1877- 1936), who gained nationwide fame and recognition as “the bravest woman in the world.”
Alispach, who identified herself as a “restless tomboy” in her autobiography, was born in 1877. After graduating from the Cazenovia Seminary, she ran off to join the circus.
Mark Woodworth is joining the WATS cast for the first time this year to portray Reverend Joshua Leonard (1768-1843), the first pastor of the Cazenovia Presbyterian Church and a veteran of the War of 1812.
An early settler of Cazenovia, Leonard relocated from Ellington, Connecticut with his wife, Margaret Field Leonard, in 1799.
This year’s event will also include a lesson on gravestone iconography. Along the route, several headstones will be illuminated to allow passersby to view examples of the icons carved on the stones, such as willow trees and Celtic crosses, while Cazenovia Public Library Acting Executive Director Elisha Davies explains the meaning behind the symbology.
WATS is now in its ninth year. According to Wong, attendance has grown steadily over the years due in part to word-of-mouth promotion.
“Every year, I hear from so many new tour participants that their friend or family member encouraged them to attend,” Wong said. “For returning guests, and there are some who have come to every single event, it’s fun and familiar, but there’s also something new every year. . . . This is a community that embraces its history, and people really enjoy learning about the ‘ghosts’’ stories. And we serve the best hot spiced cider in town!”
Guests can park at 22 Burton St. near the ice rink and ball field or at Burton Street Elementary School. There will be no entry into the cemetery from Fenner Street on the nights of the event.
The cost of admission is $12 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. Tickets are available onsite only; cash and local checks are preferred, but cards will be accepted.
Light refreshments will be served.
Tours depart every ten minutes beginning at 7 p.m. and last approximately one hour. The last tour each evening departs at approximately 8 p.m.
Attendees are encouraged to dress for the weather and wear shoes suitable for some uneven footing along the walking paths.
In case of inclement weather, check the CPF events page for updates.
CPF is a private, non-profit organization that works to protect the historical, agricultural, and natural resources in and around Cazenovia for the benefit of the community and the enjoyment of future generations.
Proceeds from WATS will go towards supporting CPF’s ongoing conservation work, property stewardship, and educational programming.
To help further the organization’s mission, CPF is also planning to auction off a piece of 18th-century furniture that was once owned by one of this year’s “ghosts.”
When relocating from Connecticut to Cazenovia in 1799, the Leonards brought with them a Chippendale cherry oxbow four-drawer chest.
According to CPF, a hand-written message affixed to the inside back of the top drawer reads as follows:
“This bureau was taken in a wagon in April 1799 from Ellington, Conn. To Cazenovia New York by Margaret Field Leonard (Mrs. Joshua Leonard) who was grand-daughter in the sixth generation of Reverend Henry Whitfield born in England in 1597 who came to this country in 1639 and founded the town of Guildford, Connecticut where his house now stands.”
The chest, which features ogee bracket feet and maple inlay, was built in New England around 1750-1780 and was given to CPF in the 1970s along with other small furniture items, maps, and art.
“[It] has spent nearly a half-century in storage, and over the years, several CPF boards have considered options for the piece,” the Oct. 5 CPF press release states. “At this time, CPF is offering the item at silent auction. The proceeds from the sale will be used to fund our mission in service to the community. Our hope is that the item finds a Cazenovia-area home where it can be enjoyed by its owners and their guests.”
The chest, along with information on the lives of its former owners, will be on display at the Cazenovia Public Library from Oct. 18 to Nov. 5. Online bids can be placed at 32auctions.com/CPF2023.
WATS IX is supported by the following sponsors: Jim and Patty Dungey, Andy and Jane Mistur, Will and Deb Wester, Baird and Muffy Hansen, Leigh Baldwin & Associates, Wegmans, Caz Sports Bowl, Country Cuts and 20|EAST. According to CPF, the event is possible due to the assistance of all the volunteers, Davies and the Cazenovia Public Library, Madison County Historian Matthew Urtz, and the Village of Cazenovia.
For more information on CPF, visit cazpreservation.org.