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Valley News Dispatch

Ninth ghost walking tour brings to life words of notables from Brackenridge and Tarentum

Chuck Biedka
| Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, 10:33 p.m.
Pat Wood of Tarentum portrays Noah Henry, a founder of the first fire department at Brackenridge. A vintage fire hose nozzle and protective coat were next to him on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2018.
Pat Wood of Tarentum portrays Noah Henry, a founder of the first fire department at Brackenridge. A vintage fire hose nozzle and protective coat were next to him on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2018.
Tarentum founder, judge and congressman Henry Hugh Brackenridge’s words were brought to life for the Prospect Cemtery’s ghost tour on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2018 by actor Hugh Fox of Tarentum.
Tarentum founder, judge and congressman Henry Hugh Brackenridge’s words were brought to life for the Prospect Cemtery’s ghost tour on Thursday, Oct. 10, 2018 by actor Hugh Fox of Tarentum.

People who played a role in Tarentum and Brackenridge’s history gained voice again Thursday night during the annual ghost walking tour of Prospect Cemetery.

In a few moments, actors who wore period appropriate-clothing, shared the history of some of the notables among the 16,000 plots in the 13-acre cemetery just off of Freeport Road in Brackenridge.

The land was in Tarentum until 1901 when Brackenridge Borough was founded.

Confederate and Union soldiers and early families were among the first interred in the burial ground established in 1863 on acres donated Henry Hugh Brackenridge, a judge, lawyer, Whig Party congressman and founder of Tarentum, and his wife, Caroline.

On a clear, crisp night, Hugh Fox, of Tarentum, portraying Henry Brackenridge, stood feet away from the family gravestones at the front of the cemetery.

At least 150 people from the region registered for the ninth annual, hourlong tour that started in the twilight and finished with lit luminaria lining walkways.

To keep visitors on the path, guides dressed in clothing from the 1800s carried lanterns to lead the way to where the actors awaited to talk.

Guides included Marie Kosmal and Beverly Meli, both of Harrison, and Flora J. Smith, of New Kensington.

At the Brackenridge gravesites, the judge’s headstone had a lit candle on top. Fox wore a black judge’s garb and stovepipe hat as he delivered two-minute talk about the founder.

“We love history,” said visitor Bobbi Garris, of Brackenridge.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” she said, standing next to friend Diana D’Amico, of Lower Burrell.

Event organizer and cemetery board President Cindy Homburg, of Tarentum, was wearing clothing to honor her aunt, Georgie Pavitt, who died in 1958.

“She was beautiful and was the Mary Pickford of Tarentum,” she said, referring to the diminutive silent movie star.

Sarah Schott, of Pittsburgh, told the story of Lydia Unger Kennedy. Schott enjoys sharing history and has been part of the annual ghost walking tour for its ninth year.

Bertha Shafer’s role in local history was explained by the words of Debbie Marion, of Tarentum.

Born in 1885, Shafer was married twice and had five sons and a daughter by her first husband. She and her second husband operated rooming houses along Second and East Fifth avenues in Tarentum along then a dairy store in Pittsburgh’s Carrick neighborhood.

Eventually, the couple returned to open a bar along Sixth Avenue in Brackenridge. Bertha died in 1954.

Across a grassy knoll, notable turn-of-the century legal authority Martin Walter, a Spanish-American War veteran who became an attorney and local judge, was brought to life by the words of Jeff Jones, of Harrison.

Wearing a black derby hat, ornate vest and leaning on a cane, Walter told the story about a client who was accused in a trial of drinking whiskey in public.

As the tale goes, Walter passed the bottle to the jury and asked each member to take a drink to determine if it was alcohol in the bottle.

“When they handed the bottle back to me, it was empty. There was no evidence so I dismissed the charges,” Jones performed the oft-quoted words of Walter’s.

Other actors portrayed the founder of the first Brackenridge fire company and the first scout troop.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at 724-226-4711, cbiedka@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.

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