by Sarah Dollendorf
It's that time of year again: The leaves are falling, the cool crisp of autumn is in the air, and the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks are setting the stage for the October season of spooky festivities.
Taking place promptly at 7 p.m. each Saturday at the Peace Garden, 476 Center St., the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks enable people of all ages to venture past Lewiston's cheerful disposition into its dark, gloomy past.
With a historical aura circa the 1800s, the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks consist of more than sheer fright, but add a dose of history into their sinister concoction. Renowned for accurate stories with a twist of frightful fun, these 90-minute tours are not a typical "haunted hayride," but rather an accessible, entertaining means of diving into the depths of both the good and the bad of Lewiston's past.
"Lewiston really and truly is haunted. But it's also rich in history, and we're proud that, through the Ghost Walks, people can come and experience not only good theater, good history, but also learn of graveyard etiquette - like how to read tombstone engravings, bizarre medical practices, while hearing stories about those buried alive and being introduced to form emotional attachments to individuals that lived in the 1800s," said Eva Nicklas, artistic director of the Lewiston Council of the Arts, which sponsors the walks. "Lewiston is bloody, creepy, spooky and misunderstood in its past and hidden present. Here, the unknown is discovered and taught to those that dare venture on our walks.
"We have about 11 actors this year that are solely volunteering their time because they love to do what they do, and each of our members are incredibly talented. They have the capacity to memorize their scripts in a mere week, and fully become immersed into their character's past so that it becomes their alter ego. This program here through the Lewiston Council of the Arts is by far the most loved orchard walk performance in Lewiston, and because this show has been around for about 15 years or so, what initially began as an experiment now thrives off of dedicated research to each character and the display of vivid history throughout the entire presentation."
Nicklas fills the shoes of Sally Tryon, who as a child survived the War of 1812. She has re-enacted the strong-willed Lewiston woman with ease since the start of this program. Tryon, a lady who disobeyed the word of her husband, has come back to life with added depth through the artistic crafting of Nicklas, who established a more flirtatious and gossip-indulgent version of Tyron's modest life.
Niagara Frontier Publications' very own Sue Mikula Campbell has given her artistic expertise to the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks, portraying Lucy Williams Hawes, a young woman who came to Lewiston in the early 1800s. Hawes knew of the Underground Railroad in Lewiston, and documented her historical accounts through her diary. As a versed, award-winning journalist herself, Campbell brings a modernistic livelihood to Lucy's stories and sweeps in spooky sentiment throughout her acting to help create the perfect October-story feel.
She has written several ghost stories for the Ghost Walks over the years, and this year performs the perennial favorite "The Big Black Dog." Another favorite, usually performed by another character is "Body and Soul."
"It's really interesting, that the majority of the people we're playing are actually buried in the cemetery where we perform," Campbell said. "To top it off, our Marble Orchard Ghost Walks family has endured rain, snow, sleet and hail together, since we perform rain or shine."
Through the bonds formed during those nights, the characters have learned to improvise off of one another's energy, and always love when the crowd is engaged in the performance. Although the performances are geared more toward a young-adult to adult crowd, all who come to witness the Ghost Walks will be exposed to a plethora of knowledge and will definitely go home learning something.
"It's fun to perform - fun to engage the emotions of the audience and stir a fright in those witnessing our ghost walk for the first time, and we all love to do what we do and see the smiles, the laughs, and the tears in our audiences," Campbell said.
Actors have been told at the end of walks that the Lewiston walk surpasses that of those held in other places, including Williamsburg, Va.
With a blast from the past entwined with occurrences of the present, the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks are a frightening, engaging and educationally fun way to spend a Saturday night this October.
Find out what happened to James Going after he died. Hear about Morgan the Mason, who may still haunt the Frontier House, or the Tuscarora legend of Skadotti, the "Screaming Killer of Dogs."
Admission is $15 for adults, $8 for children under the age of 12, and for LCA members. For more information about the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks, call the Lewiston Council of the Arts at 716-754-0166 or visit www.artcouncil.org.
Lewiston's Marble Orchard Ghost Tours conclude on Oct. 26.