DUNMORE —Jennifer Ochman, of West Pittston, sees an element of beauty in cemeteries — especially in the Dunmore Cemetery.
“It’s not a sad place; it’s a beautiful place,” Ochman said. “There are beautiful trees, and people are planting flowers at the grave sites. And the markers themselves can be quite beautiful — they’re statuary. It’s sort of like going to a museum. And you have all the natural beauty that’s in that place right there, and so I think it’s a beautiful place. Certainly it has sadness, but it’s got a positive vibe to it.”
She said the same is true of the Dunmore Cemetery Tour, hosted annually by the Dearly Departed Players, of which she is a member.
“It’s got some sadness, it’s got some humor, it’s got beauty and it can be a lot of fun. You learn a lot and you appreciate the area and the rich history that we have in the area — all the sorts of people who make it what it is and make us who we are. Because that’s our history.”
This year’s tour, titled “Criminal Intent,” will include 20 costumed stops throughout the cemetery. The free event is slated for 2 p.m. Sundays, Oct. 4 and 11.
A mix of history, humor and the arts, the production is written and directed by Julie Esty, of Scranton, and performed by a regional cast of 18 actors and actresses, ranging in ages 8 to 77. This year, the Dearly Departed Players will be joined by Kuhn’s Classic Memories, from the Charles M. Noll Funeral Home in South Williamsport, with its Victorian horse-drawn hearse; students from Act Out Theater, The University of Scranton theater and The Ezra Griffin Camp, Sons of Union Veterans.
The full cast includes Esty, Ochman, Wendy Belaski, of South Abington Township; Karl Barbee, of Springbrook Township; Megan Esty, of Scranton; Elisabeth Johnson, of Scranton; Bri Kelley, of Newton, New Jersey; Roger Mattes, of Nicholson; Phoebe Mattes, of Nicholson; Nancy McDonald, of Dunmore; Christine McGeachie, of Jessup; Laura Miceli, of Scranton; Jim Patterson, of Moscow; Maria Poggi-Johnson, of Scranton; S. Robert Powell, of Carbondale; Latrice Smith, of Philadelphia; Nelson Wood, of Scranton and Mike Kranik, of Dunmore.
Ochman joined the group about 10 years ago after watching the production as an audience member.
“It’s a great way to learn about local history,” she said. “I enjoy acting and I enjoy the cemetery. And I enjoy the group — the group is a lot of fun.”
She said Esty does a “wonderful” job in not only researching and writing the script, but also in casting the parts and allowing each actor and actress to add their own flair to characters to make them come alive.
Belaski, who joined the players about eight years ago, expressed the same.
“What’s amazing to me is when you first read it (the script), it’s a nice story, but when somebody performs it, when one of the players gets a hold of it, it becomes alive,” she said.
“We’re bringing back the dead,” Esty added. “It’s a nifty form, you could say, of reincarnation.”
One person who is “reincarnated” in this year’s tour is former Scranton Police Department Superintendent Lona B. Day, to whom this year’s show is dedicated. According to Esty, Day served with the department from 1902-1922. His personal life was a difficult one, with three marriages, each ending in the death of his wife. In addition, he went through the loss of a young daughter.
“So, you have to keep in mind that this guy keeps going, doing his job, and he’s got children, he’s got that heartache of losing spouses,” Esty said. “And during Lona Day’s tenure, the Scranton Police Department thrived.”
“It’s hard to believe that the stuff the character talks about actually happened to the actual person,” Ochman said. “Some of them are just so unbelievable.”
She referred as an example to a story from Day’s life, in which he was called to a domestic dispute. According to the story as told in the tour script, the woman kept yelling something about her eye until the officer realized she had a glass eye that had fallen out during the dispute. He then helped her find it before moving on. In another story, Day had to deal with removing an extremely overweight prostitute who could not walk from an upstairs apartment building. In yet another, he helped two frightened runaway children find their way back home and convinced the parents not to beat them upon their arrival.
“But most people today have never heard of him (Day),” Ochman said. “So, it’s nice to re-recognize some of these people who have kind of fallen out of the public consciousness.”
She said she also enjoys promoting local history and helping people see Northeastern Pennsylvania in a different light.
“I think we are really down on ourselves in the area,” she said. “We always have been. Everybody wants to get away from this place. And I think that we don’t appreciate the history and all the things there are to do here.”