Ghosts of Ironton

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 29, 2005

With the white, iron gates swung wide, the arched gateway into Woodland Cemetery warped time and space to transport visitors into Ironton's past and offer glimpses of spirits long passed from this world.

Hundreds of people of all ages filed over the bridge and into another era as the orange sun set overhead. From the smallest of children riding peacefully along in strollers to the eldest of citizens slowly weaving through the headstones, travelers were spellbound by the lure of what once was.

Organized by the Lawrence County Historical Society, the third annual Historical Ghost Walk captivated visitors with the humorous, chilling and entertaining tales of Ironton's famous - and infamous - citizens.

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"This is really better than I thought. I never thought I would be in a graveyard on a Saturday night," Coal Grove-area resident Tom Brammer said. "It has been very educational. It was quite a history lesson."

Actors donned historically accurate costumes that allowed them to step into character to 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, the only female Ironmaster, Nannie Kelley Wright, and Osa Wilson, a woman whose statue reportedly does strange things.

"I just think this is fascinating. There is so much history here," said Ann Wagner, who portrayed Nellie Marting Lowry. "This is what makes Ironton. People need to know where their roots come from."

Those roots were on display in their entire storied splendor. Ironmaster Frederick Norton leaned casually against the grey stone, in a sleek black tuxedo, crisp top hat crookedly balancing on his crown and brass-handled cane in hand.

"I died of the grip," Norton, portrayed by Robert Price, said referring to the flu as he shook his cane at the spectators who disturbed him from his ghostly slumber. "And I know you have had the grip and you have to."

Up the hill, Civil War hero and Lawrence County's first casualty Richard Lambert took a long draw from his canteen and propped himself up on his rifle. Crowds huddled ever tighter to hear what he and others had to say.

More than 80 volunteers work tirelessly for weeks in advance, all for the love of the city's history and to thrill the audiences. Last year, more than 1,500 people entered the virtual time machine.

This year may have topped even that effort.

Not content with pass successes, organizers conjured up some new spectres of the past.

The ghost walk now features 28 characters.

For many, the walk was a chance to learn things that may not be found in a textbook but may be more ingrained into the regions history.

"It is interesting. I like hearing about what went on in Ironton," said Fawn Hoffman, a freshman at Rock Hill High School who made the visit with her three friends. "We never hear about local history. It is more about home."