Walking Through History
Dunmore Cemetery Tour brings characters to life
Oh, the characters you meet on a pleasant autumn afternoon … in the cemetery.
We recently stopped by the Dunmore Cemetery to chat with two members of a local theater group who bring history to life — with a twist here and there — Julie Esty and Karl Barbee. The members of the Dearly Departed Players are delightful characters even before they get into costume. With a love of history, a gift for theatrics, a sense of humor and a true appreciation for the art of storytelling, Esty and Barbee explained that the tour’s ninth season will open on Sunday, Oct. 7, at 2 p.m. with a cast of 14 talented actors using the scenic cemetery as their stage. (In other words, this isn’t your typical seasonal cemetery tour).
In the past, guests have traveled from as far away as Sweden to take in the production in Dunmore. More than 1,000 people attended last year, and organizers expect this year to be even bigger and better than ever.
As we found a nice, shady spot to sit and chat, we had a few questions for Esty and Barbee about the show. Here’s what they had to say:
How do you change the production from year to year?
JE: Every year the scenes are different and we change something. And, of course, we change the costumes, too.
KB: But she does bring back some of the same people because they’ve become celebrities as far as the tour is concerned. So similar scenes will be repeated and she’ll bring them back as a celebrity guest.
That’s fun! Who might be a celebrity guest this year?
JE: We have one couple who fight like cats and dogs — the Zimmers — and people always want them on the tour.
KB: They request it! They run into Julie and they ask her when the Zimmers are coming back.
JE: One time we were doing First Friday in costume and people were yelling, “There’s that couple that got killed in the train crash!” It’s so neat; they’ve become very recognizable. They think, “oh they’re fighting.” And everybody has done that. If you’re married, you’ve had that knock down, drag out fight. If you haven’t, there’s something wrong with you.
KB: It makes them real and it makes people empathetic to what they (characters) went through.
Now we’re intrigued. What happened to the Zimmers?
JE: We love the Zimmers and what happened to them was not funny at all. They were killed in a train crash and this year is the 100th anniversary of their death. In 1912, they were killed outside Corning, N.Y., so of course they’ll be making an appearance in some form on the tour.
What’s the process for writing the script and bringing this production to life?
JE: It just happens (smiles). It’s whoever kind of jumps out at me. I could be researching something and looking at (the name) Tyler and along the way, I’ll find five other people (to incorporate into the show). I’ve been visiting the cemetery for years even before doing the tours, so I know the names. Back in the 1980s I photographed professionally. I used to come out here and photograph this place in black and white and now it’s like a rolodex in my head. I have the cemetery pretty much memorized.
Do you take some poetic license when you’re writing the script for the tour?
KB: She gives them believable lives. She breathes character into them even though we can’t know 100 percent who those characters were. If she gets hints of what they were like from newspaper articles or research, of course she applies that. Julius Bone was one of them. He was a pharmacist who was known for being cantankerous. He was very adamant about not wanting anything to be open on Sundays. When pharmacies started opening on Sundays, he went to the convention and tried to make an amendment that they couldn’t open on Sundays.
Is there a new aspect to this year’s show that you’d like to share with us?
JE: I know that the U.S. Postal Service is having problems. We’re all texting, and using email and it’s putting people out of work. One of the ladies on the tour this year is married to a man who is an early mail carrier. And she talks about his accomplishments in mail delivery and she says for me writing a letter was a lovely thing. You put it in the mail and then you got one back. And what we’re trying to say there is maybe we need to get back to sending letters. We try to work in scenes to relate the stories to what’s happening today.
— julie imel
The Dunmore Cemetery Tour will take place on Oct. 7 and 14 at 2 p.m. at the cemetery gates, 400 Church St., Dunmore. This year, the Players received a Lackawanna County Arts & Culture grant. Admission is free. Arrive early to peruse photos on display of famous cemeteries and graves by local photographer Dorothy Loney. There will also be a poetry reading with a “cemetery twist,” and there will be live music and dance. Following the Oct. 7 tour, a dinner with the Dearly Departed Players will be held at the Dunmore Community Center on Monroe Ave. sponsored by the Dunmore Historical Society. Tickets for the dinner are $8 and may be purchased by calling 558-1060. Proceeds from the dinner benefit the Historical Society. There is no charge for the tour. For more information, visit Dunmore Cemetery Tour on Facebook.