Memories of Ghost Walks past from Cindy Boyer, Ghost Walk producer and playwright
When I started this program in 1994, a “Ghost Walk” was not a well-known event, not too many people had heard of such a thing. They didn’t know what it was or why they should sign up for it. But all it took was an article in the newspaper describing it as “a night-time walking tour with actors portraying ghosts from Rochester’s past” and we sold our 650 tickets in one day. People realized we were a unique and enjoyable event, and couldn’t wait to try it.
Today there are dozens of “Ghost Walks” in October, including quite a few in our own region. But guess what: we are STILL a unique and enjoyable event! We’re the only one to treat you to a guided evening walk in a historic, architecturally diverse neighborhood. We’re the only one that focuses on true historic events – even though many of the stories are difficult to believe. We’re the only one to feature professionally directed actors in scenes from our past, ranging from macabre to touching to comedic. And we’re the only one that has been sharing these ghostly encounters for 20 years.
For those of us who have been involved since 1994, we have had our own “encounters.”
Actors experience unique distractions performing on porches – passing cars, parties in the next building, a wayward teenager with water balloons – but nothing topped the dog. Linda Loy was performing a solo scene when the neighbor’s dog wandered over, sat at her feet and stared up at her adoringly. A bulldog. Wearing a pink tutu. He stayed for the whole scene while Loy kept the audience’s attention – and a straight face.
Do the people from the past want their stories told? Researching murderer August Russell, I was searching hundreds of early 20th century “mug shots” in the City archives. They weren’t in specific order and I was about to give up on finding Russell. I held up an unrelated mug shot card to show my colleague across the room and a card stuck to the back fell to my feet, face up. You guessed it – Gus Russell.
How do you measure success? When we first started, people had to wait in a line outside. The Meigs Street line stretched from East Avenue almost to Park Avenue. When we sold out, people showed up offering to pay double to be admitted. But we knew “Ghost Walk” had really made it the night a hot dog vendor cart showed up!
Some people take “Ghost Walk” experiences very personally. A young man asked if we would help him stage a proposal to his girlfriend at the event, since their first date had been a Ghost Walk tour. We were delighted to add an extra scene for their tour group only. David Boyer performed as a mid 19th century gentleman who was interrupted by the groom-to-be as he pulled his girlfriend out of the crowd and proposed. Since It was a damp evening, we even provided cardboard as a dry kneeling surface.
Another year a husband and wife waited for their tour in the church, holding a nicely carved wooden box. “What’s that?” we asked. “That’s our mother’s ashes. She loved coming to Ghost Walk and we thought we’d bring her one last time.” They gave us permission to share the story. I wonder if we should have asked at the end of their tour if the box was still occupied.
Come to Ghost Walk and make your own memories! The Landmark Society Ghost Walk is recommended for anyone who enjoys theatre, history, architecture, a stroll in the night and ghastly, moving or humorous true stories expertly performed. It is not recommended for children under 8, due to the content of some stories and the length of the performances.
All tours start at the Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word at the corner of East Avenue and Goodman Street. The tour is about an hour but the wait (inside the church) can be up to an hour at peak times. To avoid a lengthy wait, visit our website for information on scheduling a reserved tour time.
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There are only two nights for Ghost Walk this year: Friday October 25 and Saturday October 26. Tickets in advance will be $17 ($12 for members) and $20 at the door – If available. Last year’s one-weekend Ghost Walk was close to a sell-out – please don’t wait too long to get your advance tickets. Tickets will be available online until noon on Friday, October 26. If available, tickets can be purchased day-of in person at Parkleigh or at the door at Ghost Walk, 6:30-9 p.m.