Stories from beyond the grave

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First Posted: 5/26/2014

People take mind-clearing walks or runs through them, or even strolls to actually admire the surroundings, but as you tread through a cemetery, are you really aware of what is around – and beneath – you?

On June 1, the Slocum Hollow Historians will provide those who come for a stroll through the Forest Hill Cemetery in Dunmore with just that information.

“There’s always something, with every cemetery,” said program director Margo Azzarelli, who does much of the research that provides the information for the tour. “Every cemetery has something unique about it; Forest Hill certainly has a lot.”

The cemetery was opened in 1870 by several Green Ridge residents, and it sits behind the former Scranton School for the Deaf. A creek runs through it, and certain sections of the burial site are dedicated to particular members of the deceased. The Pine Hill section is the oldest.

“It’s more rustic,” Azzarelli said of the cemetery’s aesthetic. “It’s old-fashioned. There are plenty of trees and beautiful flora and fauna. It’s a nice place that a lot of people walk daily.”

The Slocum Hollow Historians will tell the tales of what certain flora and fauna mean to the gravesites as well as what tomb inscriptions mean. Though the stones date back nearly 150 years, Azzarelli said many are in excellent shape.

One of Forest Hill’s most notable tombstones is that of Edith Hess, a young girl who perished in one of the worst train wrecks in history – it’s a stone that’s in her likeness.

“They sent her photo to Italy after she died and had the stone made there,” Azzarelli said of the work of art that serves as a grave marker.

There’s a section dedicated to soldiers of the Civil War, and even one soldier that Azzarelli said confuses many grave-goers.

“There’s a confederate soldier in there,” she said with a slight chuckle. “People get very confused. ‘How did a confederate soldier end up over here?’”

As if the facts the Historians drop on attendees aren’t interesting enough, each person telling these tales dresses the part.

“We dress in period clothing, from all different eras,” Azzarelli said. “We’ve got lots of Civil War hoop skirts, someone from the Roaring ‘20s. We’ve had Victorian era. We have someone doing the 18th century.”

That doesn’t mean, however, that they’re necessarily in character.

“A lot of cemetery tours do first-person, but we don’t do ours that way,” Azzarelli said. “We don’t become the person; we read testimonies, we tell their story. It’s all third-person.”

And it’s all in the name of preservation.

“You need to preserve the history,” Azzarelli said of why the group does this. It is now in its seventh year. “If you don’t preserve the history today, it’ll be forgotten tomorrow. When you go into the cemetery, you see all these stones, but what we see are stories.”