Spirits of Stepney to shine light on local history

The Spirits of Stepney Graveside Lantern Cemetery tour in the Birdsey’s Plain/Stepney Cemetery will be Friday, Oct. 27, and Sunday, Oct. 29. Tours begin at 7 and 8:30 p.m. on Friday and 6: and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday.

The tours are being lead by spirit master, Kevin Daly, historian and member of the Save Our Stepney Task Force, which is sponsoring the event. Daly will take participants on an illuminated lantern journey to notable and perhaps not so notable gravesites of those interred in the Stepney Cemetery.

Some of the sites to be presented include a beloved husband and wife from a noted family who settled in Upper Stepney over a decade before the first shots of the American Revolution were fired, a woman who turned her side hobby of dairy farming into a successful and nationally recognized enterprise, a Civil War private who fought for the Union cause and was captured and

imprisoned at the Battle of Chancellorsville and a Stepney born and raised entrepreneur and successful industrialist who defined lower Stepney as we know it today.

Each person, older than the age of 16, will be given a lantern to navigate the tour. Graves will be marked with jack-o-lanterns and an artifact that is significant to the person’s life story. In addition, luminaria will also light the way to the gravesites. Reservations are strongly recommended.

In the Birdsey’s Plain/Stepney Cemetery lie some 1,400 men, women and children. Each life constitutes a footnote, a page, or a chapter in the story of Stepney’s development as a community. The cemetery was established with a gift of land by Noah and James Burr, Jr. in 1794, and subsequently enlarged in 1813 and 1844. The earliest death date on a surviving tombstone is that for Betsey Sherman who died in 1794 at the age of 5 years, 10 months and 16 days.

The famous “White Lady,” whose spirit has been seen in this cemetery and the Union cemetery of Easton, will make an appearance. She is described by those she has materialized in front of as wearing a white dress and having long black hair. Sometimes visitors spot her “floating” through the graveyard, other times sitting atop a headstone looking sullen. There are several theories surrounding the identity of the White Lady; one version marks her a femme fatale who was murdered after killing her husband. Another tale says she was a woman who died giving birth to her child. Which of these stories is correct depends on who you ask.

Many individuals of interest interred here include, industrialists William Penfield, Ira Penfield, Barnum Curtiss (with three of his four wives) and Andrew Barnum Curtiss; merchant Burr Hawley; postmasters Harriet Platt and Stephen French; and pioneer settler Thomas Hawley.

Physically the Birdsey’s Plain/Stepney Cemetery is a 3.1-acre burial ground. Most of the memorial stones are carved of granite. There is a great variety in the designs utilized for the monuments including obelisks and tall columns with urns at their tops. The cemetery has a single lane “U” shaped road for vehicular access to the rear. There are two entrances and one exit located along Pepper Street. The cemetery boundaries are marked by stonewalls and original black ironwork fences and gates, typical of the nineteenth century and earlier.

The cost of the tour is $15 per person, children 12 and younger admitted free, and space is limited to 20 persons per tour. Parking is provided behind the Our Lady of the Holy Rosary Church. Refreshments will be served. To reserve your spot and a lantern, contact Lee Hossler at 203.261.5702 or dlhossler@sbcglobal.net

The Save Our Stepney Task Force, Inc., is organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, more specifically to preserve and enhance the character of the village of Stepney, incorporated within the town of Monroe. The organization’s scope of concern includes identifying, documenting, improving and/or preserving historic, cultural and natural properties and features of Stepney. Activities include public events, education, beautification and cultural enrichment. For more information about the Save Our Stepney Task Force, call Joel Leneker at 203.268.0247, follow us on Facebook at Save Our Stepney Task Force or visit www.stepneyct.org.