Prospect Cemetery's 'Ghost Tour' brings Brackenridge, Tarentum history to life
The dead came alive Thursday at Prospect Cemetery in Brackenridge.
For the eighth October in a row, the cemetery where the borough's namesake is laid to rest was the site of a “Ghost Tour,” a one-hour walk among the headstones featuring volunteers dressed as significant community figures from Brackenridge's and neighboring Tarentum's past.
Event organizer and cemetery board President Cindy Homburg, 68, of Tarentum said the yearly event can draw hundreds of people to the historic cemetery. Proceeds help maintain the 16,000-plot cemetery, among them the final resting places of many of the communities' founding families.
“There is so much history here that it's important that we try to teach people about it and preserve it,” Homburg said.
The first ghost on the tour was that of Tarentum founder and Whig congressman Henry Brackenridge, played this year by local historian and retired Alcoa chemist Skip Culleiton, 79, of Winfield.
“If history isn't remembered and recorded, it will be lost,” Culleiton said before beginning his shift as Brackenridge's ghost. “I think it's important that people remember these people that were so important to the community.”
During the tour, Culleiton, dressed in judges robes and standing next to Brackenridge's grave, explained to a group of visitors how the cemetery, founded in 1863, was once land owned by Brackenridge Borough.
A dozen other ghosts followed Brackenridge as the tour carried on, each actor dressed in the clothing of the period his or her ghost lived through.
Clayton Falkner walked the tour for the first time. Falkner has lived in the Birdville section of Harrison for the length of his 82 years.
About halfway through the tour, Falkner met his great-grandmother — or, rather, he met Ronda Dibas, 63, of Leechburg, dressed as the late Sarah Bird — wife of Birdville founder Richard Bird.
Falkner said it was nice to see his family's legacy is still remembered.
“I think she did a good job,” he said of Dibas' portrayal of his late relative. “I only met (Bird) one time, when I was very young. She had so many great-grandkids she probably didn't even notice me, but it's nice to see her remembered.”
Also featured were the ghosts of Samuel Norman, a constable murdered in Tarentum in 1877, and Mildred Howe, the wife of Valley Daily News founder Charles Howe. The Valley Daily News was a predecessor of today's Tribune-Review Valley News Dispatch edition.
As for real ghosts, Debbie Marion, who has volunteered to play a ghost through all eight seasons the tour has been held, said Prospect Cemetery is most definitely haunted.
“We have had a few ghost hunters through here, and there are lots of stories. I would say this place is definitely home to some spirits,” she said while dressed as Rebecca Butler, who is buried there with more than 100 of her relatives.
According to Marion, the whole point of the tour is remembering those deceased men and women.
“This is about honoring and remembering the dead,” she said.
Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer.