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Spirits Alive! (2007) at Maple Grove Cemetery

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Viewing the Spirits Alive! Performances
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by DIANA SHAMAN

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Rain showers were not enough to dampen the fourth annual Spirits Alive event held September 22 at Maple Grove Cemetery. The crowd of about 100 spectators came equipped with umbrellas and the only change in plan was that the volunteer actors played their roles in one area instead of the 18 separate sites where they normally would have stood had the weather been more favorable.

Each actor portrayed a character that one way or another had an historic association with the cemetery which originally opened in 1875 and which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2004.

"There is a trend of cemeteries doing these events," said Nancy Cataldi, president of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, the sponsor of the Spirits Alive event. Maple Grove was the host. "The actors originally started out doing it as a favor," Ms. Cataldi added, " but once they started they fell in love with doing it. Every year I create new scripts, and recruit new people."

The actors include friends, board members of the Richmond Hill Historical Society, or people she has worked with, Ms. Cataldi said. "I try to match them to the right character. I cast each one specifically to fit their look and personality."

Among the many characters was Jimmy Rushing, a blues singer known for his booming voice who was a member of the Count Basie band among other famous ensembles. The part was played by Lionel James. Joseph De May Jr. portrayed cartoonist Martin Branner. Joanne Caruso played Branner's wife, Edith Fabbrini, and Josephine Ingoglia played Winnie Winkle, one of Branner's most famous cartoon creations.

Radio pioneer Alfred H. Grebe was played by Ivan Mrakovcic (the past head of local Community Board 9)assisted by his two daughters Emma and Hannah. Grebe began developing his radios in a tool shed behind his house on Van Wyck Boulevard in Richmond Hill in 1909. As an added treat, Mr. Mrakovcic displayed a Grebe Synchrophase Radio Receiver.

Fiona Kearns had a tragic role to play, that of Ruth Amos Wheeler, a 15-year-old brutally murdered in 1910. Another tragic ending was that of actor Charles B. Bishop played by Joey Elrose. Bishop was a well-known comedian. On October 8, 1889, he left the stage of the Lyceum Theater in Manhattan joking and laughing after performing in the play Lord Chumley. Among Bishop's last on-stage words were "early to bed and early to rise." Ten minutes later he was dead of a heart attack.

On a lighter note, Patrick Kearns, playing the role of cartoonist, Percy L. Crosby, creator of the comic strip Skippy. Mr. Kearns was assisted by his children, Pat playing Skippy and Declan playing Sooky. Bill Wisnewski, a professional pianist and piano teacher in real life and his wife Lois played the roles of pianists Joseph and Rosina Lhevinne.

Ms. Cataldi, the Richmond Hill Historical Society president, played herself. In a flowing pink dress, high-buttoned shoes, pearls and sporting an enormous rose-bedecked hat, she looked every inch the gracious hostess giving a lawn party for assembled guests.

Earlier Articles:
  •   Day of Remembrance at Maple Grove Honors the Dead with a Celebration of Life
  •   Summer in the City
  •   Concerns Over P.S.99, Post Office, And Impact Of Potential Landmarking Draw Large Crowd To Town Hall Meeting
  •   Kew Gardens Community Day (2007)
  •   A Parking Lot Becomes a Flea Market
  •   A Touch of Soho on Austin Street
  •   Kew Gardens Merchants - The Bliss Café
  •   Kew Gardens Lights Up for the Holidays
  •   Queens Borough Hall Garage in Kew Gardens
  •   The House on 116th Street
  •   New Development in Kew Gardens
  •   Autumn Scenes in Kew Gardens
  •   Lantern Festival at Maple Grove Cemetery (2006)
  •   They Lift Up their Voices Every Friday