Are you ready for a night walk through Maple Leaf Cemetery? Jim Gilbert, Sheila Gibbs and the rest of the Kent Historical Society certainly are.
The 10th annual Cemetery Strolls begin Friday night, exposing brave trekkers to some of Chatham-Kent’s rich history.
Gilbert said this isn’t a shock and scream event, but rather one of historical reflection.
“It’s always scary walking in the cemetery at night. We are not going to have people jumping up with chainsaws or reaching out of a grave to grab your leg,” he said. “It’s meant to enlighten rather than frighten. Being out walking in the cemetery at night by lantern light is scary enough.”
Gilberts added the strolls involve groups of people, so it is not as if participants are wandering the cemetery on their own.
What they will encounter aren’t actors in goalie masks sporting chainsaws, but rather people in character portraying interesting parts of Chatham-Kent’s past.
“When you get a chance to meet various characters, oftentimes by their graves, it’s quite interesting,” Gilbert said. “They always have a great story to tell about their lives or maybe about their deaths.”
There will be 11 such encounters during the walk, and “something significant happened to them in their lives or at their deaths,” Gilbert said.
Included in the tour will be Geofrey O’Hara, the Chatham man who penned the 1918 wartime song K-K-K-Katy. His father, Robert, is buried in the cemetery and he’ll be at the gravesite.
Or there’s Susie Carson, who went to medical school back in the late 1890s before heading off to the Far East on missionary trips. Despite barely returning home from one trip, and losing loved ones, she went back, only to suffer another tragedy.
The tours will begin in the newly restored Jesuit chapel at the cemetery.
The Cemetery Strolls take place Oct. 13, 14, 20 and 21. Tickets, $22 for adults and $10 for children under 12, can be obtained by calling 519-351-2958, 519-436-2058 or 519-674-2322 or by visiting the Historic Cemetery Stroll booth near the kiosk at the Downtown Chatham Centre on the dates of the tours.
For those not interested in the evening stroll among the dead, there is also a River Road Ghost Bus Tour Oct. 27 and Oct. 28.
Gilbert said the bus tour stops at various cemeteries along River Road and people will board the bus in character to entertain and educate.
He added the bus will also make a stop at a house on the road which has “quite the reputation for being haunted. The homeowner will talk about the stories and experiences in the house.”
Gibbs said the haunting is not like how hauntings are portrayed in movies.
“One of the people describes the haunting as like a warm hug. It’s not always like how Hollywood portrays it.”
“We try to break a lot of those stereotypes,” Gilbert added.
Tickets for the Ghost Bus are $25 each and available in the same manner as the Cemetery Stroll tickets.
For the members of the local historical society, the bus tours and cemetery strolls are ways to show citizens some of Chatham-Kent’s rich history.
“We want people to get the idea that our history is as important as anybody else’s,” Gilbert said. “Important people lived here and important things happened here. They should be aware and proud of them.”
“It’s something to build on and something to be proud of,” she said. “It’s a means to look at your community in a different way.”