Denison, Swetland homes to feature tours about folklore, death on Halloween weekend

By Matt Mattei - | October 2nd, 2015 11:29 am

Throughout the month of October, Halloween attractions will decorate the landscape of Northeastern Pennsylvania. Volunteers will dress in ghoulish and grotesque costumes to scare fun into festive patrons, but tours at the Nathan Denison House in Forty Fort and the Swetland Homestead in Wyoming will give the eerie tradition of the holiday an historical feel.

The Luzerne County Historical Society (LCHS) will host tours in each of the landmark homes Oct. 30 and 31, educating tour takers about facts behind occult and even morbid bits of American heritage. The Denison tour, “Colonial Superstition, Folklore and Witchcraft” will run from 6 to 9 p.m. both nights and the Swetland tour, “Victorian Death and Mourning,” which displays a Victorian funeral and a Civil War field hospital, runs from 7 to 9 p.m.

The tours will work in conjunction with one another and patrons who attend one tour will receive a voucher for $1 off the price of the other.

The inaugural superstition tour will treat participants as if they are guests of the Denison family during the 1700s when superstition played a key role in the lives of settlers.

Folklore and traditions that evolved into Halloween as we know it will be discussed among other topics such as why Colonials kept vigil in the night to ward off witches and Satan and how the Jack-O-Lantern grew out of an Irish folktale to become an honored symbol of the holiday.

“There will be touches that will be creepy, but it won’t be a haunted house,” said Sherry Emershaw, a member of the Denison Advocates and creator of the tour, who explained the tour will be the first done by candlelight in the home and will include three rooms.

Guests will be greeted by Josiah Clark, who will be introduced as the caretaker of the home while the Denisons are in Connecticut.

“He’s a very, very superstitious fellow,” said Emershaw. “He’s always on alert and suspicious of his neighbors.” She went on to explain settlers often suspected their neighbors of being possessed by the devil or guilty of practicing witchcraft.

After they meet the caretaker, guests will be introduced to Goodie Walter, whose name is short for “good wife,” and, according to Emershaw, they’ll become accustomed to the superstitions and daily practices of a Colonial kitchen servant.

This portion of the tour will address the significance of the pumpkin as a food crop and a source of folklore in the lives of both Native Americans and settlers.

Finally, tour takers will meet Achseh Daniels, a healing woman who lives on the edge of the forest in a cabin and has been accused of being a witch. The story will follow Daniels taking refuge in the Denison House with Clark, and the medicine woman will talk about her remedies and the nature of fear.

“I think it sounds pretty interesting and fun,” said Emershaw, calling it the only tour of its kind in the area.

The Swetland tour, reenacting a Victorian era funeral and a hospital scene from the bloodiest American war, will demonstrate the macabre points of life at the time. An advertisement on the Historical Society’s Facebook page asks, “Why waste money on a haunted house when reality is far worse than anything you can imagine?”

Tickets for the Denison tour are $5 for adults, $3 for children and admission is free for children under 5. Emershaw said the house, built in 1790, is due for much-needed repairs and money raised will go toward installing new windows.

Tickets for the Swetland tour will be $8 for LCHS members and $10 for non-members. Mark Ricetti, director of operations for the LCHS, said money raised will go toward general upkeep of the homestead, built in 1803, such as new paint and window glazing.

The Nathan Denison House in Forty Fort will be the site of the inaugural ‘Colonial Superstition, Folklore and Witchcraft’ tour on Oct. 30 and 31. Nathan Denison House in Forty Fort will be the site of the inaugural ‘Colonial Superstition, Folklore and Witchcraft’ tour on Oct. 30 and 31. Submitted photo
Actors read by lamplight inside the Denison House. read by lamplight inside the Denison House. Submitted photo
Tours addressing folklore and death in the 18th century to be held on Halloween

By Matt Mattei

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