The Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society bring the spooky side of the town’s history to life in the annual ‘West Hartford Hauntings.’By Ronni Newton
Ghosts have become synonymous with Halloween, but sometimes those haunting stories have an eerie element of truth.
For the 12th year, the Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society will escort brave guests on a lantern-lit tour of the town’s North Cemetery. Guides are the “dearly departed,” who add to the spooky experience by sharing their own life – and death – stories.
West Hartford Hauntings are a blend of history and theater, with carefully-researched characters based on actual West Hartford residents. Suzanne Sayers has served as the theatrical director for the past eight years, and this year has a great cast of local residents that include students from Conard, Hall, Sedgwick, and King Philip.
“We have a cast of about 25 actors who have been working hard for the last six weeks to tell real stories of real people who lived and died in West Hartford. Some of the stories are funny and some are tragic, but they all belong to everyday people, which is what I find so fascinating. Everyone has a story,” Sayers said.
This year’s guides are a husband and wife – Rebecca and Nathaniel Greensmith – who were convicted and hanged as witches in Hartford in 1663 – years before the Salem Witch Trials. “The woman who bought their home was haunted by them,” Noah Webster House Development Manager Amy Boulton said. Expect to hear their stories, as well as the haunting tales of a 19-year-old runaway apprentice, a French soldier who fought in the American Revolution, and a mother who lost three of her sons during the Civil War.
Boulton said that staff did a lot of research into medical practices during the Revolutionary War period, and discovered some “surprising” things. Many people also don’t even realize that French soldiers had an encampment in the area, and that many died here, she said.
“People always ask, ‘Is it scary?’ It is, but it’s not like a fright fest,” said Dana Gordon, who plays the French soldier this year and is participating for the ninth time.
These are real stories, with a bit of fictionalization. “It’s a historical vignette with a touch of the macabre,” said Gordon.
Gordon’s character is based on research about Dr. Thomas Hosmer, one of the founders of Simsbury, who treated French soldiers on Avon Mountain. And his pustulant wound? “Liquid latex, toilet paper, and some makeup,” Gordon said.
Noah Webster House & West Hartford Historical Society Executive Director Jennifer Matos is impressed with the dedicated volunteers who work to put the production together. “Suzanne Sayers and all of the volunteer actors, including various students from West Hartford Public Schools, have put so much time and energy into making this the best production it can be,” she said. All but one of the rehearsals were held at the cemetery, at night. “It’s amazing how dark it is!” said Matos.
The lantern-lit tours will be held on Fridays and Saturdays, Oct. 21, 22, 28, and 29. Rain dates are Sundays, Oct. 23 and 30. The 45-minute tours begin and end at the North Cemetery at 80 North Main St., West Hartford, and leave every 15 minutes between 6-8:45 p.m.
West Hartford Hauntings is supported in part by the Greater Hartford Arts Council in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, Office of the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
To purchase tickets or for additional information visit noahwebster.yapsody.com. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for children. The experience is recommended for children ages 10 and up. Discount tickets are available for museum members and Let’s GO Arts cardholders. An American Sign Language interpreter will be available for select tours.
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