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Four Sharon, Conn., nonprofits are teaming up to give tours of the historic Sharon burial ground in the center of town, photo above. At stops along the way, actors in character will share poems from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” — which is set in a graveyard. Photo by Cynthia Hochswender​

What’s Hidden Below, in Cemetery Tour with ‘Spoon River’ Readings

Poetry and Ghosts

It isn’t often that a book of poetry becomes a publishing sensation, but that’s what happened with Edgar Lee Masters and his “Spoon River Anthology” when it came out in 1915.

The poems in the collection remain relevant today, and perhaps are particularly of interest this year in the Northwest Corner, as our small towns see an influx of new residents coming from nearby cities. 

This collection of poems, modeled on an anthology of Greek poems written between 500 BC and 1000 AD, takes a caustic, critical look at the residents of a small Midwestern town at the turn of the last century. It flipped inside out the cozy fantasy that country folk are simple, pure and always good. The poems (each one is the story of a Spoon River citizen who is speaking from his or her burial site) could be seen as harsh — but for many readers, they made small town residents become more universal, like real humans and not like illustrations in a storybook.

This month the Sharon Playhouse, the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon, the Sharon Historical Society and the Historic Sharon Burying Ground have joined forces to dramatize several of the poems from the anthology, in an unusual setting: The historic Sharon burial ground in the center of town, near the Green. 

Groups of 10 visitors at a time will tour the cemetery, threading their way between the memorial monuments and the centuries-old gravestones as actors from the region and from the larger Sharon Playhouse theater community bring a selection of the poems to life.

The Sharon burial ground is of course always a spooky attraction on Hallowe’en —but this year it hasn’t been decided yet whether the traditional trick-or-treating on the town Green will be allowed, because of the pandemic and quarantine. The Spoon River tour will give visitors a chance to see the gravestones, see some familiar theater faces, and hear the timeless poetry (and judgments) of Edgar Lee Masters.

Some familiar Tri-state region names in the show include Macey Levin (famous for his long onscreen trek up the stairway in the fundraising film for The Moviehouse in Millerton, N.Y.), Deron Bayer, Susie Hackel, Emily Soell, Barbara Zucker-Pinchoff, Katie Weiser, Michael Baldwin and Dave Cadwell.

Starting at noon and leaving on the hour, there will be six tours; audience members will follow their guide, who will recount tales and history of the Sharon cemetery. 

“At various locations actors will bring to life, as it were, original stories and selected works from ‘Spoon River Anthology,’” promised Alan M-L Wager, the artistic director of Sharon Playhouse. “The Spoon River stories are told from the point of view of the deceased, so what better setting for their stories than an actual cemetery?”

Following the tours there will be a reception on the Sharon Green, at the Historical Society and the Hotchkiss Library of Sharon. The tours and gathering will be socially distanced as recommended by state and town guidelines; all audience members are required to wear a mask.

For more information and the link to reserve  a time slot, go to www.SharonPlayhouse.org (and get the schedule of their ongoing outdoor evening performances), www.hotchkisslibrary.org or www.sharonhist.org. 

This is a free event; any donations received will be shared between the four nonprofit organizations that are hosting the tour and reading.

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