Spirits come alive in "Spirits Alive" at Maple Grove Cemetery

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Spirits Alive at Maple Grove Cemetery ( 2010 )
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by DIANA SHAMAN

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For a fleeting two hours on a recent fall afternoon, spirits came alive at Maple Grove Cemetery on Kew Gardens Road.

Volunteer actors dressed in costumes depicting how some of the people buried there might have looked in life, recounted how their characters lived, what they did, and their hopes and aspirations.

The 21-member ensemble represented a whole range of individuals, from the wealthy to the humble, bringing to mind Thomas Gray's famous line in Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard, "The paths of glory lead but to the grave."

To name just a few:
  • Helen Day, elegantly dressed in long black, related the story of Bertha Pedersen, the daughter of Neils Pedersen, a Danish carpenter who became the manager of the Man Estates.Alrick Man founded Kew Gardens in 1908.

  • Lucille Feder played Elsie DeWolfe who won fame as an interior designer during the first half of the 20th Century.

  • Frances Crosby, played by Lisa Erdman, was the mother of Percy Crosby, a noted cartoonist in the 1920's.

  • Irving Rapper, played by Don Feder, was the director of a Bette Davis film, Now Voyager.

  • Tim Dowd and Leanne Mercadante delighted children in their roles as Count Johannes and Lydia Avonia Fairbanks. The count was a noted Shakespearean actor and Lydia was one of his students.

  • Andrea Crawford recounted the sad tale of Mama Doe, a homeless woman who froze to death on Christmas Day, 1985, near Grand Central Station.

  • Patricia Willis played Beatrice Wilson who is buried alongside her sister. Ms. Wilson was a showgirl and her sister was a Worl War I Gold Star Mother.

  • Aniyah Smith played LaVern Baker, an actress and blues singer.

  • Bill and Lois Wisnewski depicted Frederick and Helen Serger. Frederick was a noted painter who together with his wife owned a Manhattan art gallery.

  • Councilmember Elizabeth Crowley portrayed Stephanie Grebe who was married to Radio Pioneer Alfred Grebe.

  • And then there was the role of Dr. Zachariah Dennler, played by Fergus Paulowski, dressed in a white lab coat, who told the story of the Civil War surgeon. His medical probe removed the fatal bullet from President Abraham Lincoln's skull.
The idea for Spirits Alive, now an annual event, was originated in 2004 by Carl Ballenas, a teacher at the Immaculate Conception School of Jamaica Estates who wanted children to learn about noteworthy people of the past by recreating the roles of those buried at Maple Grove. He called the program Celebrating the Living Spirit. He brought the idea to Linda Mayo Perez, the cemetery's past president, and the program was renamed Spirits Alive and has delighted audiences ever since. Mr. Ballenas is a historian and the co-author with Nancy Cataldi of two books, Richmond Hill and Maple Grove Cemetery.

The picture-perfect weather at the most recent event, sponsored by the Friends of Maple Grove and Senator Addabbo, helped draw a bumper crowd. As a glorious sun faded into shadows, Thomas Gray's opening lines seemed to come alive with the other spirits:
"The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me."


Earlier Articles:
  •   Killer storm hits Kew Gardens
  •   Jazz at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   The Blizzard of 2009
  •   Filming in Kew Gardens
  •   The 95th Annual Meeting of the Kew Gardens Civic Association, Inc.
  •   Let It Snow - Scenes from Forest Park
  •   A Community Discovers Its Village Roots
  •   Spirits Alive! (2007) at Maple Grove Cemetery
  •   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