Spirits Alive returns to Maple Grove

By Jessica Meditz

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The Friends of Maple Grove got into character before the tour began.

After a couple years of slumber, The Friends of Maple Grove awakened the spirits of some notable figures who rest in that cemetery.

Last Saturday, residents of Kew Gardens and its surrounding communities were able to embark on a self-guided walking tour of Maple Grove Cemetery known as “Spirits Alive.”

Every year, the event is powered solely by volunteers who commit themselves to playing the roles of the illustrious historical figures by wearing period clothing, memorizing scripts and even adapting the voice and mannerisms of another person.

Decked out in a long black cape, a detailed pink dress and a tiara, Helen Day portrayed Josephine Adams, the wife of a sea captain who went on to discover Swan Island off the coast of Honduras.

Helen Day portrayed Josephine Adams.

The couple ran a successful business selling fruits, fertilizer and other commodities before returning to the U.S.

Josephine’s husband died around 1913 and she returned back to Woodhaven in Queens, where she had family ties.

“It’s a sweet story but amazing…you will see when you look at each one of these stones that each has a story behind it,” Day said.

Day serves as vice president of The Friends of Maple Grove and president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, and is proud to have played a part in the event since 2003.

“I read some of the newspaper articles that contributed to the creation of her script…we look at the facts and we can sort of embellish the story a bit too, so it’s interesting,” she said. “There were so many details that were reported in newspapers back in the day, that you can really get a feel for the people and who they were.”

While some volunteers have been involved in “Spirits Alive”  for several years, others participated for the first time last week.

Colleen O’Driscoll, a Forest Hills resident, played Mary Coward, a descendant of one of the first families on the Mayflower.

Colleen O’Driscoll as Mary Coward.

Her story involves a romance with her true love, Jonathan, who she met as a child. The two were separated during the effects of the Civil War, but found each other again and married at an older age.

Passionate about theater, O’Driscoll was proud to be a part of the event, even though the October cold and mist had already kicked in.

“I love acting and history, and I wanted to do something for Halloween because a lot of times, the Halloween stuff that’s not scary is usually for little kids. But I’ve always been obsessed with history and I love acting,” she said.

“I never grew out of my make pretend thing and it took me until I was in high school to lose my imaginary friends because I just loved making up some crazy scenarios for us to be in,” she continued. “When you’re acting, you get to make believe for a living.”

Floral Park resident Frances Guida portrayed Susan Stowe, the wife of Charles Edward Stowe, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s son. Stowe lived at 35 Slocum Crescent in Forest Hills Gardens.

Frances Guida as Susan Stowe.

Although this is also Guida’s first year participating in “Spirits Alive,” she was thrilled to bring her prior acting experience to the event and entertain enthusiastic visitors.

I was active in community theater in Queens for a number of years when I was younger,” she said.

“I hadn’t done any acting in a while, and I felt that this was something just to wet my feet again and portray someone else,” she continued. “And with the pandemic and everything, it’s just nice to step back into some creative things that I wasn’t able to do for such a long time.”

Carl Ballenas, president of The Friends of Maple Grove, is thrilled to have brought back the event, even on a smaller scale, after the pandemic forced the spirits to remain hidden for some time.

Maple Grove Cemetery hosts a series of events year-round, and with that, Ballenas hopes to change people’s misconceptions about cemeteries and what they have to offer to the community.

“It’s unusual because every town, every village and all the cities have cemeteries. But sadly, they are just ignored because they are places to be afraid of or places to hide from. It’s a place that we can use as an educational tool, and we can learn about our ancestors with this event,” Ballenas said.

“We have a beautiful inscription at the center, it’s a 3,000-year-old Egyptian proverb that says, ‘To speak the name of the dead is to bring them back to life,’ he continued. “So we are bringing them back to life, telling a story just for one day of the year. People won’t forget that.”

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