According to Riverside Cemetery’s website, the function of cemeteries are constantly changing, and part of the role of a cemetery is to preserve history. During October, Riverside Cemetery is brought to life through reenactments during Spirits in October, where the lives of individuals who are buried or have ties to the cemetery are depicted through monologues.
Spirits in October is put on as a fundraiser by the Historic Riverside Cemetery Conservancy to raise money to aid in the preservation and beautification of the grounds, and upkeep of the cemetery. This year is the sixth annual tour, and the theme presented is “Lucky or Unlucky Thirteen,” since this year is 2013. Each of the spirits will share a special significance they have with the number 13. During the guided tour, guests are visited by seven different groups of “spirits” that share their life stories and teach about the connection they and their families share with Macon. Spirits were chosen this year based off their connection with the number 13.
“[Choosing spirits] really is a very serendipitous process [because] things will just come out of the woodwork so to speak… We had chosen the theme ‘lucky or unlucky 13’ and I was hoping I was going to be able to find people with a 13 connection. There’s the obvious things like the 13th person buried here, and then somebody who was either born or died in 1913,” said the director of Riverside’s conservancy, Suzanne Doonan.
Doonan shares that when the nonprofit sector was started, they began to look towards other historic cemeteries for ideas to fundraise and share the history of the cemetery. Many of the cemeteries they looked at had October tours that were guided, both with and without costumed actors. Because of her theater background, Doonan decided to start a tour that included costumed actors that would share the stories of some of those buried in the cemetery.
“I knew how to playwright and be a director and actor, [so] it was easy for me to kind of put that component together. The people working in the office here [all] asked ‘Who are some people who would be interesting?’ [and] ‘Who are the people we know a lot about and could get enough information to write theatrical monologues and scenes for?’” explains Doonan.
“It’s been my goal to try and have a gender balance, an equal number of men and women, and to always have at least one African American story… There are very few African Americans buried in the cemetery because it was founded during emancipation, but I want to represent those stories for that part of our community,” says Doonan.
“I think [Spirits in October] gives [people] a sense of history and some respect for things. People are very caught up in the here and now nowadays, and I think you need to know more about what lead to where we are [today],” said Margret Anne Coswell, and actress portraying the spirit of Mary Nelson Butler.
Spirits in October is a fundraiser that plays a dual role in the community. The tour allows for money to be raised for the nonprofit sector of the cemetery, and it provides entertainment by bringing stories and genealogies back to life so that they may be remembered.