Christ Church Cemetery Tour

Morgan Magic – Christ Church Cemetery Tour

 

Overlooking Christ Church Cemetery.

Overlooking Christ Church Cemetery.

I had never heard of such a thing before.  Out here in the Los Angeles area, there is a cemetery next to Paramount Pictures in Hollywood, now named Hollywood Forever and where famous people such as Mel Blanc (voice of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Barney Rubble, etc.), Cecil B. DeMille, George Harrison, Mickey Rooney, etc., are buried, and where crowds of people gather to watch concerts and old movies projected on the large white marble west wall of the Cathedral Mausoleum.  While not as grand, what the South Amboy Historical Society has done each year since 2014 is actually fascinating and amazing while at the same time not at all being creepy.

George Fuller as “The Grave Digger.”

George Fuller as “The Grave Digger.”

Each October (so far it has been October), volunteer members of the society each selects one of the permanent residents of Christ Church Cemetery, does as much research as can be done about them, and then before an audience next to where their subject rests eternally, tells of the person’s life story while dressed as that individual would have dressed during their life time.  Being Christ Church Cemetery has been a cemetery since 1856, after it was donated by the Conover Family and originally named in honor of the Right Reverend George Washington Doane (the Episcopal Church’s Bishop of New Jersey from 1832 to 1859), some of these wardrobes – and props – have been quite elaborate as you can see in some of the photos in this article.

B. Kern as Amelia Furman Howell & George Kern as Jacob Sprague.

B. Kern as Amelia Furman Howell & George Kern as Jacob Sprague.

I was able to attend the second annual Christ Church Cemetery Tour (I prefer the phrase “Cemetery Walk”) with my school friend Mike on October 24, 2015 during the week when I made my presentation on the topic of “Morgan in Maps” in the first ever joint presentation hosted by the South Amboy Historical Society and the Sayreville Historical Society.  Hopefully someday all the material from that talk will make it to this web site.

Joyce Elyea as Helen Applegate.

Joyce Elyea as Helen Applegate.

Mike and I weren’t sure what to expect.  However what we saw was, in short, awesome – almost like a day at Disneyland – sort of or perhaps more like a visit to Plimoth Plantation or Colonial Williamsburg.  Each volunteer did a fantastic performance portraying the life of some of South Amboy’s biggest wigs (e.g., Mayors Dey & Kerr) and regular wigs (e.g., Helen Applegate).

Your experience starts out at the meeting place at the entrance to the cemetery for refreshments and group assignments. Just before show time, the Grave Digger gives everyone an overview of what to expect. Each group then goes to their first enactment site at the final resting place of one of that year’s selected individuals.  After each tribute, each group then rotates to the next site until every group has seen every reenactment.  I am sure that within a few years, there will be so many people in attendance that one day won’t be enough able to handle everyone.

Mike Reilly as South Amboy Mayor Alfred T. Kerr.

Mike Reilly as South Amboy Mayor Alfred T. Kerr.

Learning about the life of someone who lived in the Morgan/South Amboy area during a different time period was fascinating.  The overused phrase, “Where history comes to life,” is very much applicable here. You learn not only about that individual’s life but also some of the big and little events which occurred during their lifetime.

Joe Coakley as Samuel Parisen.

Joe Coakley as Samuel Parisen.

One was dressed as a Civil War soldier.

Tony Sattlaro as Howard Little.

Tony Sattlaro as Howard Little.

One was dressed as a World War II soldier.

One, Jacob Sprague above, described surviving the Morgan based T. A. Gillespie Loading Company explosion of October 1918 (a favorite topic of mine and the topic of a number of articles on this web site with more to come) but also described its tragic aftermath.

Jerry Pizzillo as South Amboy Mayor William S. Dey.

Jerry Pizzillo as South Amboy Mayor William S. Dey.

One had a classic Ford Model A car as a prop.

Ken Elyea as John Proctor.

Ken Elyea as John Proctor.

This site strongly encourages everyone to attend the next instance of this event.  Watch the South Amboy Historical Society’s web site or their Facebook group for the next one.

Click on the links below the photos and you’ll be able to watch the 2015 reenactments.

Click here for a video of George Fuller as “The Grave Digger.”

Click here for a video of B. Kern portraying Amelia Furman Howell.

Click here for a video of George Kern as Jacob Sprague.

Click here for a video of Joyce Elyea as Helen Applegate.

Click here for a video of Mike Reilly as Mayor Alfred T. Kerr.

Click here for a video of Joe Coakley as Samuel Parisen.

Click here for a video of Tony Sattlaro as Howard Little.

Click here for a video of Jerry Pizzillo as Mayor William S. Dey.

Click here for a video of Ken Elyea as John Proctor.

Originally posted October 8, 2016.