Stories of the dead told by the living

printed in the Brighton-Pittsford Post, October 14, 2003
printed in the East Rochester Post, October 22, 2003
printed in the Perinton-Fairport Post, October 23, 2003


What's it like to play the ghost of a 19th-century Irish floor sweeper suspected of murder?

Ghostwalk For amateur actor Karen Olson, it's a lot of fun.

"She's a woman who basically figures the world it out to get her; that nothing is ever her fault, " said Olson. "It's all just a set of unfortunate circumstances. "

She won't comment on whether Murphy actually did it or not, though.

"I'm not allowed to tell you, " she laughed.

Olson will be playing Mary Murphy, a floor sweeper suspected of intentionally causing a grisly 1884 freight-elevator accident at the former Powers Hotel on Main Street.

Murphy again comes back to life in Rochester's 10th annual Ghost Walk later this week. Organized by the Landmark Society of Western New York, the walking tour explores the darker side of Rochester's past.

"Part of our mission is to help people learn more about local heritage - even though this is the gorier side of history, " said Cindy Boyer, the society's director of museums and education. "People come away from the ghost walk saying they just never knew Rochester had such an interesting history. "

Ghost Walks run every Friday and Saturday evening until Oct. 25.

Led by lantern-bearing guides, participants take a short tour through the old Arnold Park area of Rochester. Along the way, they meet and visit with figures from some of the city's most infamous industrial accidents, murders and mysterious events. All "ghosts " are played by local actors, both pro and amateur.

"In most theater productions, you're separated from the audience by the stage and lights, so you really can't see them " said Henrietta resident John Barthelmes. "In (Ghost Walk) you're standing on the first step and they're looking right at you. "

A software engineer and teacher the rest of the year, Barthelmes will take on the role of a laborer who lived through the city's worst natural disaster - a devastating 1865 flood in which the Genesee River jumped its banks and put Main Street under five feet of water.

"My character had been asked to help a friend move and became trapped by the flood, " Barthelmes said.

Other "visitations " this year include a young woman who became a bride and a widow on the same day, and a fraudulent 19th-century se & aacute;nce, complete with eerie tappings and rappings and other sound effects.

Though many don't know it, Rochester was the birthplace of the Spiritualism craze that gripped America in the 19th century, Boyer said.

"You kind of have to be mysterious; you don't want to get out of character, " said 13-year old Fairport resident Caitlyn Mark, who is playing a ghostly "long-lost relative " called up by the medium. "I like to walk fast and you really can't do that. "

Ghost Walk tickets are available in advance at Landmark Society headquarters and at Parkleigh, 215 Park Avenue. Members pay $7; $8 for non-members. Call (585) 546-7029 ext. 10 for times or tickets.