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2018-07-11 / Arts & Entertainment

More Than 120 Attend Halcottsville Cemetery Tour

By Rosie Cunningham


Bertha Williams (Anne Hersh) makes a pointed statement about how she wound up in Pierre, S.D. People in the hamlet are still talking about it. Dan Flanagan/The Reporter Bertha Williams (Anne Hersh) makes a pointed statement about how she wound up in Pierre, S.D. People in the hamlet are still talking about it. Dan Flanagan/The Reporter HALCOTTSVILLE - The sixth Living History Cemetery Tour presented by the Historical Society of the town of Middletown (HSM) took place Saturday, July 7 at the Halcottsville Cemetery; 124 individuals turned out for the event.

According to Diane Galusha, president of the Historical Society of the town of Middletown, the day is well attended each year.

“Earlier in the week, reservations were way down and we thought the stifling heat and competing events would seriously reduce our usual attendance of 120-130,” she said. “But after July 4, with a great weekend weather forecast, the calls came in fast and furious. We were so grateful to have full tours to hear these wonderful stories. And we made just under $2,000 for the historical society.”


“Sherm” Bussy (John Bernhardt) and grandson Winfield (Eli Taylor) recounted moments in their lives. Dan Flanagan/The Reporter “Sherm” Bussy (John Bernhardt) and grandson Winfield (Eli Taylor) recounted moments in their lives. Dan Flanagan/The Reporter The tour highlights some individuals who rest in the cemetery, have shaped the community in one way or another and have a rich and/or interesting story to share.

“We try to choose characters who can tell a unique story about an era, an event, the specific community, or a family tale that will resonate with people,” said Galusha. “What jumps out is the universality of experience - we all rejoice and laugh and grieve and fail and wish for something better in life. No doubt they felt, like we do, that they had all the time in the world. The lesson is that life is, in fact, very short.”

During the event, attendees met actors who portrayed some of the subjects, such as the trio of brothers who shaped commerce and community in the hamlet; the diarist who recorded the comings and goings of her neighbors for 50 years; the railroad station agent haunted by a horrific train crash; the hotel keeper who was witness to a scandal, and the woman who knows the truth behind it and returns to tell her story.


The Kelly brothers told their tale of farming, entrepreneurship and building the round barn on Route 30. The portrayals were made by actual Kelly descendants. Dan Flanagan/The Reporter The Kelly brothers told their tale of farming, entrepreneurship and building the round barn on Route 30. The portrayals were made by actual Kelly descendants. Dan Flanagan/The Reporter Tour-goers were led in small groups to meet these folks and others who talked about their families and friends, struggles and joys, and the events that shaped their lives.

“All 11 actors were outstanding,” said Galusha. “They breathed life into their characters guided by directors Frank Canavan and Joyce St. George. Bertha Williams (played by Anne Hersh) returned to Halcottsville to tell her side of the 1913 scandal known as the elopement of the ‘Faithless Four.’ People loved hearing the darker side of small town life -- then as now, it was not all hard work, church picnics and happy ever after. Three actual Kelly Brothers -- who rehearsed via conference call with director Frank Canavan, as they live in the Adirondacks and Vermont - portrayed their great-granddad George Kelly and his siblings, David and Norman. It’s always great to have descendants playing their ancestors. And these guys rose to the occasion. Eli Taylor, at 11 years-old, played a little boy named Winfield Bussy, appearing with Win’s grandfather, Sherman Bussy (played by John Bernhardt). Who wouldn’t choke up at Winfield’s question, after drawing a picture of his family: “They won’t forget me, will they, grandpa?’”

The script writers took raw information based on research into the lives of these folks, and turned it into compelling 8 to 10-minute presentations for the actors to deliver.

Characters in this year’s tour, and the actors who portrayed them, included Jennie McKenzie Hewitt Doland, schoolteacher, seamstress and diarist (Agnes Laub); the Kelly Brothers – George, Norman and David – who ran a large farm and several businesses in the hamlet (Rich, Tim and Terry Kelly, great-grandsons of George); Ed and Aurelia Griffin, railroad station agent, and keepers of a general store, post office and restaurant (Dave Truran and Amy Taylor).

Also, Andrew Moldovan, Russian immigrant farmer (Erwin Karl); Sherman Bussy, hotel proprietor, and his grandson Winfield (John Bernhardt and Eli Taylor); and George W. Hubbell, factory owner and jack of all trades (great-nephew Burr Hubbell).

Bertha Williams (Anne Saxon Hersh), who shocked the community in 1913 when she ran off with a local man and made a new life in South Dakota, floated on the cemetery’s periphery, bending the ear of tour-goers to set the record straight.

Tour guides were Tina Greene, Sydney Asher and Barbara Funck.

Scripts were written by Anne Saxon Hersh, Mary Barile, Beth Sherr, Mack Oliver, Jenny Liddle and Terry Bradshaw, as well as Frank Canavan and Joyce St. George, who also serve as directors of the event.

Galusha discussed why she believes it is important to keep local history in the forefront and for individuals today to keep a firm grasp on the history that

“Someone once said about people from the past, ‘They are us in other clothes.’ History is really only an arm’s length away. Getting to know our ancestors, and the communities they lived in, and the stories behind the buildings, street names and the local institutions, helps us realize we are part of a continuum. It puts our own lives in perspective,” she said.

Galusha said the historical society heard about a similar event in Kentucky several years ago, and contacted the organizers to learn what it entailed.

“We were looking for a signature event that no one else was doing in this area,” she said. “It has been a real winner, allowing us to research individual and community histories and drawing in folks who wouldn’t normally be interested in history. We’ve done this at six cemeteries now, each one holding surprises and memorable moments. We are grateful to the Halcottsville Cemetery Association for embracing this event.”

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