2011-10-19 / Features

Spirits Come Alive At Maple Grove Cemetery

By Jason D. Antos

Margaret Walker Drysdale, a stage actress who, acting under the name of Madge York, was brutally murdered by her jealous husband in Philadelphia in 1892 and is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery. Actor Monica Barczak brought her memory to life.Photos Jason D. AntosMargaret Walker Drysdale, a stage actress who, acting under the name of Madge York, was brutally murdered by her jealous husband in Philadelphia in 1892 and is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery. Actor Monica Barczak brought her memory to life.Photos Jason D. AntosThere is an Egyptian proverb that says, “To speak the name of the dead is to make them live again.”

In 2004, students of the Aquinas Honor Society of the Immaculate Conception School in Jamaica, under the guidance of their teacher and local historian Carl Ballenas, created a social studies program called the Historical Wax Museum project.

The project’s goal was to recreate local historical figures as a basis for learning about local history.

Since 2005, this project has been put into effect at Maple Grove Cemetery in Kew Gardens.

Now in its sixth year, the community event called ‘Spirits Alive’ attracts history buffs to the historic sixty-five acre cemetery. A student from the Aquinas Honor Society reenacts a figure buried in the African-American section of Maple Grove Cemetery. The history of this section was discovered by research conducted by the students of the society.A student from the Aquinas Honor Society reenacts a figure buried in the African-American section of Maple Grove Cemetery. The history of this section was discovered by research conducted by the students of the society.

Twenty-two volunteer actors, dressed in period clothing corresponding to the time in which the individual lived and died, brought to life many of Maple Grove’s notable souls who rest amongst the 80,000 plus graves which dot the landscape of the 136 year old establishment.

As visitors walked around on October 15 and encountered the different characters, they were treated to a concise recited biography of the person’s life and how they came to be buried at Maple Grove.

Historical figure reenactments included William Nelson, a World War I soldier who fought at the Battle of the Argonne Forest in France; Margaret Walker Drysdale, a stage actress who, acting under the name of Madge York, was brutally murdered by her jealous husband in Philadelphia in 1892; Elma Stebbins, the wife of famed hymnist composer George Stebbins; Kate Claghorn, a young woman who earned her PhD from Yale in the late 1800s and was one of the signers of the manifesto creating the NAACP; Francis Marsh, a young telegraph operator who survived the Great Blizzard of 1888 and the Great Johnstown Flood; John McKenney, a Civil War soldier who fought with the Massachusetts Heavy Artillery and LaVergne Bronk, whose ancestors where the first European settlers of The Bronx which still bears their family name.

Col. William Sterling Cogswell, founding president of Maple Grove Cemetery, who died in 1937, greeted visitors at the main entrance.

Andrew Koslosky, founder of the Josephine Foundation, which helped provide the ensemble for the event, portrayed Cogswell.

“Today, you visit the spirits alive. They all welcome you,” Koslosky said in character wearing a black cape and silk high hat.

Cequyna Moore, assisted by Mandy Gor, designed costumes for the actors.

Col. William Sterling Cogswell, founding president of Maple Grove Cemetery, who died in 1937, greeted visitors at the main entrance. Andrew Koslosky, founder of the Josephine Foundation, portrayed Cogswell.Col. William Sterling Cogswell, founding president of Maple Grove Cemetery, who died in 1937, greeted visitors at the main entrance. Andrew Koslosky, founder of the Josephine Foundation, portrayed Cogswell.One of the more interesting attractions was the students from the Aquinas Honor Society who portrayed individuals buried in the African American section of the cemetery.

These individuals buried at Maple Grove Cemetery were originally interred at the African-American burial ground at the historic Shiloh First Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. These members were removed from the vaults of their church and brought to Maple Grove in 1877. The Shiloh First Presbyterian Church was a stop on the Underground Rail Road and had a huge impact on the anti-slavery movement. Many influential figures included Frederick Douglass. Aquinas students portrayed these almost forgotten individuals dressed in Civil War era costumes.

“Using research, my students were able to bring to light this unexplored fact...that this area near Maple Grove’s main entrance is filled with African Americans and former slaves,” Ballenas said. “They [the students] are passionate about the history of the community in which they live and today exemplifies that passion for research and local history.”

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