Living history in Riverside Cemetery: Spirits in October

A yellow slice of moon drifted in and out of the low clouds as my friend and I walked toward Riverside Cemetery. It was a Saturday night, dark and cool, and the main sources of light were the hundreds of candles lining the paths of the cemetery. Our tour guide, Terry Jordan, gestured with his flashlight to assemble a small group of people for the walk. After a brief introduction, Jordan turned to lead us along the candlelit path into the heart of the graveyard.
For me, the coolest thing about Halloween is that it coaxes old stories back into the light. Forget ghost stories: a person doesn’t have to come back from the dead to haunt you. When Halloween rolls around, I always get a delightfully eerie feeling by thinking about the lives and deaths of the people who lived before me.
This is why I enjoyed the Spirits in October walk at Riverside Cemetery. The annual nighttime ramble leads visitors to the graves of notable Maconites from the past 200 years. This year’s theme, “Incredible Firsts,” explores the stories of Maconites who accomplished great goals, built notable Macon sites or contributed essential firsts to the community. Don’t take my word for it, though; on the tour, you can hear it from the ghosts themselves.
The cemetery event brings in actors from the Macon community—including some Mercer faces—to play the roles of the ghosts of the graveyard. Periodically, the tour stops to introduce the visitors to one of the graveyard denizens. An actor stands above or near the grave of the person he or she is portraying and delivers a monologue about the life and accomplishments of the deceased. Cemetery conservancy director Suzanne Doonan wrote the script for the tour, weaving touching personal details into the stories while emphasizing the state of the world at the time the person lived in it.
The actors and actresses rotate through roles on different nights. On the night I went—Saturday, Oct. 20—the actress playing Mary Evans Glass gave a particularly strong performance. Glass, the founder of the ADPi sorority, recounted her time at Wesleyan—a time in which the school’s rules were much stricter, enforcing everything from kindling rations to chaperoned ventures off campus. Feisty and headstrong, the actress portraying Glass gave equal scope to her personal story and its context in the state of women’s rights and roles during her lifetime. Her performance was thrown into an interesting perspective a few graves later, when female pilot Hazel Raines stepped out from behind her stone to talk about her experience as one of the first women to fly military aircraft.
If you go on the right night, you’ll spot two familiar Mercer faces amongst the ghosts. Alum Evan Ayoub and freshman Kevin Kersey—both of whom recently appeared in Mercer’s “The Merchant of Venice”—deliver a fun and playful performance as the Coke brothers, whose photography studio can still be seen downtown.
I wouldn’t call the candlelit ramble “creepy” by any means, unless you are easily spooked. But there’s something thrilling about threading one’s way through history, and the Spirits of October event does a wonderful job of bringing that history to life.
Tours will be held Oct. 25-28, starting at 6 p.m. and running every 15 minutes until 9 p.m. Each ramble lasts about an hour. Tickets for students are $10 and can be purchased online at the cemetery’s website.