Eavesdropping on local history
By Beth LaMontagne
June 27, 2005 PORTSMOUTH - A small group of history buffs gathered in the North Cemetery on Sunday evening to listen to the spirits of the past.
Historical actor Sharon Wood dressed the part of Betsy Phelps, a Civil War-era mother fondly remembering her son who died in the battle of Gettysburg. She spoke about her life on the Seacoast before she and her family moved to Amherst, as well as about the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the great Portsmouth fire of 1864 that destroyed 15 buildings along Bow and Penhallow streets.
She also spoke about the life of a Civil War soldier and the high number of men lost to battle wounds and disease.
Following her presentation, Wood broke from character to explain the research she did for the role and to answer questions.
"It’s a great exercise to study history and to read about people’s lives," said Wood. "Living through the people and telling their story makes us realize they’re people just like us, they just lived in different times."
Wood encouraged the listeners to visit the places where history happened and to read about the people who lived in the past.
The presentation was the second of 33 scheduled this summer to raise money for the Mayor’s Blue Ribbon Cemetery Committee. "Spirits 2005: Bringing the Dead to Life" features a number of historical actors taking on the images of famous figures of the past, including Benjamin Franklin and Louis Wagner, the man hung for the Smuttynose murders.
The money raised by passing the hat and donation forms will be used to preserve older tombstones that have been decimated over time from harsh weather.
Currently, the committee is working on straightening and resetting 100-150 gravestones in the North Burial Ground. Committee members are also meeting with historical experts to create new signs for Portsmouth’s historical cemeteries and have received a $5,000 grant from the Greater Piscataqua Community Foundation.
The next cemetery presentation will be June 25 at the Union Cemetery, where Margaret Kelly will perform as Mrs. Lillian Aldrich, wife of the writer Thomas Bailey Aldrich.
Only July 4, Sharon Wood and her husband Steve will perform as President and Mrs. Lincoln at the North Cemetery and again at Strawbery Banke Museum.
For more information and a schedule of events, call 436-5096 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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