By Marilyn Delk
When Darke County Center for the Arts hosts its annual Halloween-season fund-raising Ghost Walk next weekend, the organization will be continuing a tradition that extends back in time, way, way before DCCA’s entrance into the Halloween celebration scene. The holiday itself originated with the Celts, who lived 2000 years ago in the British Isles and celebrated their New Year on Nov. 1, marking the end of the harvest and the beginning of the dreaded dark cold winter. The night of Oct. 31 was believed to be a time when the boundary between the living and the dead became blurred, with ghosts of the dead returning to earth.
These ghosts were believed to damage crops and wreak havoc on the countryside; to ward off these invaders, Celtic priests known as Druids would build huge sacred bonfires where people gathered in costumes meant to ward off ghosts while making their sacrifices to deities. When the Roman Empire conquered the Celtic lands, festivals of Roman origin were instituted; however local traditions were incorporated into the proceedings. Christianity spread to these areas, and the church designated Nov. 2 as All Souls’ Day, honoring the dead in a manner very similar to the now supplanted Celtic rites; the celebrations were also called All-hallows or All-hallowmass, and the night before All-Hallows Eve.
Although Halloween celebrations in colonial New England were somewhat muted due to the rigid beliefs of the Puritans, a distinctly American version of Halloween was eventually created as different ethnic groups arrived and customs from many lands were meshed together. Neighbors gathered together to celebrate the harvest as well as share tales of the dead; those traditions continue to this day, ranging from gathering around a campfire in someone’s back yard to visiting haunted houses to partaking of DCCA’s traditional Ghost Walk in which spooky tales are told by costumed storytellers who share local stories of the unknown and unexplained.
On Friday, Oct. 29, participants in the Downtown Greenville Ghost Walk will begin their adventure at Henry St. Clair Memorial Hall; after being given a map indicating where the stories will be told, they will proceed at their own pace to a choice of eight different sites, perhaps stopping to enjoy food and drink at local establishments along their way. Story-telling begins at 6 p.m. and ends at 9 p.m.; stories will be repeated at 15-minute intervals.
The Ghost Walk moves to Greenville Union Cemetery on Saturday, Oct. 30 and Halloween, Sunday, Oct. 31; attendees will move through the grounds with a costumed guide who will share a few tales and lead participants to grave sites where actors will be stationed to offer additional stories. The Cemetery Ghost Walks also begin at 6 p.m.
While guaranteed to be spooky, the stories shared at both the Downtown and Cemetery Ghost Walks are appropriate for all ages. Volunteer actors and tour guides are Caitlin Beasecker, Michael Bitner, Larry Delk, Marilyn Delk, Treva Gough, Katheleen Nealeigh, Tim Nealeigh, Rachel Nealm, Charlie Pope, Tiffany Pope, CeCelia Rice, Laura Schaffer, Sheila School, and Jaime Stocksdale, who is also director for the Ghost Walk.
Tickets for the Downtown Ghost Walk and the Cemetery Ghost Walk cost $10, but are not interchangeable. While advance tickets for the Cemetery Walk are only available on-line at www.darkecountyarts.org and by contacting DCCA at 937-547-0908 as well as at Greenville Public Library, tickets for the Downtown Walk can also be purchased at Readmore’s Hallmark in downtown Greenville and on the night of the event will be available at St. Clair Memorial Hall from 5:30 p.m. till 8:30 p.m. Entry to the Cemetery Ghost Walk will be at the North Main Street entrance to Greenville Union Cemetery where tickets may be purchased from 5:30 p.m. till 6 p.m. Parking is not allowed within the Cemetery.
Add DCCA’s traditional Halloween event to your Halloween traditions; it’s fun, and you’ll be assisting the arts organization’s ability to continue offering entertaining, informative Arts In Education programs in all local public schools, as well as other diverse presentations enhancing lives in our community. Ah, yes — supporting DCCA — another worthwhile tradition to begin or continue!
Marilyn Delk is the former executive director of the Darke County Center for the Arts and can be reached at [email protected]. Viewpoints expressed in the article are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.