By Erica Scharn
The Milk Row Cemetery was alive with action Sunday as a steady stream of attendees strolled through for The Ghosts of Somerville: Up Close and Intimate. Somerville High School Local History Club members and other volunteers, costumed and in character, brought history alive as they led tour participants around the city’s oldest cemetery. “I appreciate this,” said a resident of Somerville’s Spring Hill. “I grew up in Somerville, never had a chance to be in here. I’m glad I finally got to come today.”
The tour of the cemetery took place October 20 as part of Monster Mashed-Up @SomerStreets, which was the last in the 2013 SomerStreets series. Established in 1804, Milk Row Cemetery is situated next to Demoulas Market Basket on Somerville Avenue (formerly called Milk Row). Historic Somerville, Inc. produced The 2013 Ghosts of Somerville in association with the Somerville Museum and the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission. For the second year, students from the Somerville High School Local History Club participated in the event as re-enactors and guides, portraying Somerville residents buried in or associated with the cemetery.
Fifteen students from the History Club spent their afternoon volunteering at the event. “They’ve been wonderful,” said J. Brandon Wilson, Executive Director of the Somerville Historic Preservation Commission. “They love to get dressed up. And so we’ve been acquiring more and more clothing in order to dress them in appropriate attire. That’s what you see today, a lot of it is very authentic and very elaborate.”
Before dispersing to the gravesites for the first tour, the students helped each other to adjust hats, gowns and capes. They posed for a group picture with Adda Santos, Advisor for the History Club and a history teacher at the Somerville High School. “It’s like a big reenactment club. I think in the process they learn a lot,” said Santos. “And a lot of them are foreign-born. I think that’s amazing, and that really shows Somerville as it is, how diverse it is, that all these kids from Nepal and China and Haiti are playing colonial Americans.”
The tour’s eight stations highlighted Somerville residents from the 1600s through the 1800s, including Samuel Tufts, who fought in the Revolutionary War and owned the farmland that the cemetery was built on; Widow Anna Rand, who ran to warn Samuel Tufts about the British soldiers looking for a fight; Miss Clairiana Bailey, who wrote 75 inscriptions for the graves in the 1800s; and Sarah Wardwell, who was accused of witchcraft.
Isabella Allen, seven, said that her favorite costume was Sarah Wardwell’s. Her sister Lucinda (Luci), five, favored the British soldier’s costume, which had 75 buttons and a bearskin hat that they got to touch. “We came over just for this Milk Row Cemetery event,” said Bruce Allen, the girls’ father. The West Somerville resident had never been inside the cemetery before. “I want to learn more. It was interesting.” The family stopped at the Civil War Soldiers Monument before leaving, where Barbara Mangum, President of Historic Somerville, explained that the monument is one of the oldest in the country.
Colonel Lawrence (Larry) Willwerth III, a Somerville resident on the Boards of Historic Somerville and the Somerville Museum, greeted tour participants at the welcome station inside the wrought iron gates. “Like any community around Boston, there’s a lot of hidden treasures and we want people to share their heritage,” said Willwerth. “It’s not just Somerville, I think it’s part of our character as a society, that we need to preserve the past, so we understand the future.”