ROXBURY, - More than 150 people braved a damp, dark night earlier this week to participate in the First Presbyterian Church of Succasunna’s first Moonlight History & Mystery Cemetery Tour.
The event, a fundraiser for the church’s mission activities, attracted people of all ages, said Michele O’Halloran, a member of the church who helped organize the tour. “We had 157 people come and take the tour,” she said. “The youngest was four years old. The oldest was 90, I think.”
That would have been Hazel Kadimik, who – with her husband – founded Merry Heart Nursing Home. “She came with her family, walked the whole tour and really enjoyed it,” said O’Halloran, who served as Kadimik’s guide.”
Among others attending the tour were members of Roxbury Cub Scout Pack 45’s Den 1, O’Halloran noted.
The tour, originally scheduled for the prior weekend was moved to Nov. 5 due to rain. It didn’t rain on the new date, but O’Halloran indicated the event would have been a bit better had it not been cloudy that night. “It was damp 59 degrees,” she said. “Unfortunately, the moon stayed hidden behind thick clouds.”
However the darkness was pushed back by about 100 candles that flickered throughout the church grounds and “the church and chapel stained glass windows glowed warmly in the darkness,” O’Halloran said.
The “living history” tour took participants to the graves of 12 cemetery residents where people in costumes portrayed the notable people buried there including
- Rev. Dr. Elijah Stoddard (played by Jim Ritchey)
- Eliza “Linnet” Stoddard (played by Amy O’Halloran)
- Eliza Ann Stoddard (played by the church’s pastor Rev. Carie Morgan)
- Zillah Alpaugh (played by her real-life granddaughter June Alpaugh Varcoe)
- Civil War soldier Louis Force (played by Josh Johnston)
- Harry Davenport (cemetery caretaker for 45 years, played by Dave Fleischer)
- Charlotte Meeker(played by Linda Fleischer) at the gravesite of her daughter Harriet Meeker
- “Chenoa” a Lenape girl (played by Hana Johnston) at the mass grave of 21 Lenape people
- Revolutionary War soldier Jacob Drake (played by Brodie Haughey)
- William Simonson (played by John Summers) which is the oldest readable gravestone in the cemetery – dated 1767
- Governor Mahlon Dickerson (played by Bob O’Halloran)
- Sarah Condit (played by Pat Shortridge).
“At the beginning of the tour, participants heard from the Rev. Stoddard and his wife about how they built the Stoddard Memorial Chapel in memory of their daughter Linnet, who died at 16,” O’Halloran said. The chapel was built in 1887 and has stained glass windows imported from England.
The mass grave of Lenape was discovered in 1960 when workers were digging the foundation of Fellowship Hall, she said. “One of those skeletons was seven feet tall, believed to be the tribe’s chief.”
Armed with flashlights and candles, eight tour guides led 13 groups on a half-mile walk to the gravesides. “While mostly historical/biographical in nature, the tour was interspersed with tales of ghost sightings at the church and the warning, “Stay with your tour guide. Don’t wander … or the spirits might grab you for a dance”.
Afterward attendees were treated to hot mulled cider and donuts.
“I loved being a tour guide,” said O’Halloran, who works as assistant to Roxbury Township Manager John Shepherd. “I got to hear all 12 characters (including my daughter and husband) tell their stories and watch the reactions of the crowd. People really enjoyed it. They were amazed at how old some of the stones are and how many Revolutionary War and Civil War soldiers we have buried here. Others commented on the beauty of our stained glass windows all lit up for the tour.”
O'Halloran said the event raised about $1,100 for the church's mission trip. A destination has yet to be determined, she said.
"We have several options including Appalachian house building or working several days at a large Philadelphia soup kitchen/shelter," O'Halloran said. "The kids are trying to decide."