Dellwood stories come alive

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MANCHESTER — The stories of those buried at Manchester's Dellwood Cemetery came alive on Thursday night thanks to the Manchester Historical Society and the Dorset Players.

The event featured local actors portraying prominent residents of Manchester's past in full costume to raise funds for both the Historical Society and the Dellwood Cemetery.

"This isn't the first time it's ever been done, but we sort of resurrected an old idea and enlivened it by adding some new research thanks to Shawn Harrington, who is the curator for the Historical Society," said Kim Rizzio who, like Harrington, sits on the board of directors for both the Historical Society and the Dellwood Cemetery. "This is such a Manchester treasure, and there are some amazing stories that I think a lot of people are not aware of."

Thursday's performance drew a crowd of close to 200 participants, who split into multiple groups for a walking tour of the cemetery. Along the way, attendees were introduced to 21 prominent historical figures including business owners, community pillars, commercial developers, war heroes, and local legends.

"A very large part of our mission is education, and we want to use all of the materials that we have in our collection to tell the stories of Manchester," said Frederica Templeton, president of the board of directors for the Manchester Historical Society. "An event like this is the perfect opportunity for us to share these stories that people may not know in a different way."

For the actors involved, from both the Dorset Players and the Oldcastle Theatre Company, the event provided a unique outlet to recreate history.

"I think it's a wonderful thing. I've heard of associations doing this, and I think it's an important thing to do," said Mike Chapman, who read the Declaration of Independence as Bennington's Stephen Fay at the Battle Monument just days earlier. "So often we just see stones in a yard, but this part of our heritage is very important. I feel very fortunate they asked me to do this."

For Orland Campbell, president of the board of directors for the Dellwood Cemetery, the performance emphasized that Dellwood continues to be much more than stones in a yard.

"It's a beautiful place that's a historic part of the countryside. It's part of the town and has a history of it's own," said Campbell. "This idea is a way of bringing history to life, and bringing the town to life, to show that you're not just living in Manchester — there's so much more here."

Due to a shrinking endowment and evolving death patterns and customs, Dellwood has been put in a difficult financial position in recent years. Events like this can play a large role in raising both funds and interest, according to Campbell.

"We try and get public attention to Dellwood, which is a beautiful place," said Campbell. "Hopefully some of them who are closer to my age will be interested in moving in and buying property."

With extensive greenery and multitudes of walking paths, the beautiful setting only served to enrich the performances, according to organizers.

"So often people think of cemeteries as a place that might be sad or a place that you only go to when people have died," said Rizzio. "It really is a place of beauty every day."

"It's great to have people come and see it," said Templeton. "Now maybe they'll feel comfortable coming here, which is really delightful."

In bringing the stories of Dellwood to life, the organizers hope that they can enliven not only the cemetery but the history of Manchester itself.

"Hopefully this contributes a real sense of the legacy of the town, and an idea of what has gone before us in terms of some of the real treasures of Manchester," said Rizzio. "My hope for tonight is people will come in and see the beauty that is here every day in this cemetery, and have a sense that it is really a living place."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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