Capturing the Past

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2005

With its tall old trees and often looming crypts and monuments, Woodland Cemetery can be a mysterious looking place.

An event this Saturday aims to draw back the curtains and let in a little modern light on some of that mystery. The third annual Historical Ghost Walk will begin at 6 p.m.

Those who attend the walk will make their way among the graves of some of the city's more famous - and infamous - departed citizens. Area residents in period costume will portray such legendary figures as John Campbell, one of the city's founding fathers; Dr. Joseph Lowry, the victim in one of the city's better known murder mysteries; and Richard Lambert, Lawrence County's first casualty in the Civil War.

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The Ghost Walk is the work- literally- of the Lawrence County Historical Society.

"It takes 80-85 people to work it," historical society member Robert Price said.

"We're expecting about 2,000 people. We had 1,500 last year."

What's new?

While all of the favorite stories from previous years will return to the Ghost Walk, some new faces and events have been added as well.

One addition to the lineup is a portrayal of ironmaster Thomas Means, who also was president of Second National Bank.

Bob Blankenship, who portrays Means, said he was involved in the Ghost Walk the first year and was willing to help again. Blankenship said being a history buff, the Ghost Walk is an opportunity to learn about the area's past and an opportunity to learn about Thomas Means.

"They asked if I would do it and I said I would. I really didn't have any preference of who I wanted to be and they asked if I would be Thomas Means," he said. "I think it's fun, interesting."

Other new portrayals this year are Charles Kingsbury, who was the first superintendent of Ironton City Schools; Thomas Albert Jenkins, who was a prosecuting attorney and state senator and U.S. Congressman and Jenkins' wife, Mary Wynee Jenkins, who donated money to local churches; as well as ironmaster Samuel Dempsey, his wife Mary and one of their 20 children.

The Ghost Walk features 28 characters this year.

Old favorites

"I love my character," Nancy Livingston said as she clutched a crochet shawl around her. With the shawl and a long skirt, Livingston is a reflection of another time. She plays the part of Osa Wilson, known often as "The Slapped Lady."

Wilson's grave is adorned with a statue of a woman who appears to be descending a flight of stairs. The commonly told story about Osa Wilson is that her husband became angry with her and slapped her across the face so hard she fell down a flight of steps, fatally injuring herself and her unborn child.

According to local legend, a handprint has often been seen on one cheek of the statute at her grave and efforts to sand it away have been largely unsuccessful.

It is also said the belly of the statue is warm even in winter and melts snow that falls on it, an eternal tribute to the child she was carrying at the time of her death.

But is the story true?

"It could be true," Livingston said. "She did fall down steps and she was pregnant, according to newspaper accounts of that time."

At Patriot's Path and in the Civil War soldiers' plot, the 91st Ohio Valley Infantry Civil War reenactment group will turn back the pages of time to the war between the states.

The story of James Ditcher, known as "Red Fox" will also be told. Ditcher is credited with helping 300 escaped slaves find freedom above the Mason-Dixon line.

Another old favorite is the portrayal of Antoinette Peters, a Russian ballerina who married a local industrialist and settled in Ironton, bringing with her jewels given to her by a Russian czar.

Legend has it that "Teenie" the ballerina can sometimes be seen dancing in the cemetery.

"Antoinette was seen two years ago by people on the ghost walk," Price said. "Several people saw it."

In costume?

For some, the history of their character is not something they encounter only for the Ghost Walk.

It is all around them all the time. Price, for instance, plays the part of Belfont Iron Works founder Fredrick Norton. Price now lives in what used to be Norton's house, also known as The Tower House, on South Fourth Street.

"I've found out a lot about him over the years," Price said.

Dow Dunfee plays the part of Hiram Campbell, one of the founding fathers of the city and the man who donated the money for a stained glass window at First Presbyterian Church. Dunfee attends that church, the city's oldest houses of worship.

"It's interesting I'm playing him," he said.

If you attend

Those who attend are urged to bring a flashlight. Programs will be sold for $2. Information guides will be available to assist Ghost Walk participants.

Those who attend may park on the Liebert parking lot and either walk or take a free shuttle bus to the cemetery.