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Students Reenact History at Local Cemetery

Eileen Fresta standing beside gravesite
Eileen Fresta beside Jacob Painter's gravesite
9/30/2011 —

Several Penn State Brandywine students donned nineteenth century garb and gave a walking tour of Cumberland Cemetery on Sunday, Sept. 25. Junior Eileen Fresta created the tour during her summer internship at the cemetery.

Fresta researched some of the most important people interred at Cumberland Cemetery and explored what life was like in Delaware County hundreds of years ago. She used her findings to create a tour that included anecdotes about the lives of the cemetery’s inhabitants.

Fresta was joined by sophomore Sarah DeMartino, junior Rob Ripson, senior Jennifer Santangelo, Instructor in American Studies Larry Smythe and cemetery staff and volunteers. Smythe played the part of local legend Thomas Pratt, the original owner of the land on which the cemetery now sits.

The volunteers borrowed their period costumes from the Historical Society of Delaware County and planted themselves at assigned graves. When tour guides brought visitors through, the participants remained in character and told their life stories. 

image of people in colonial garb

 

“More than 70 community members attended the tour to learn about some of Middletown’s more illustrious residents from the past, and about burial customs in the 1800’s,” Fresta explained. “The tour was so successful due to the help of the volunteers. The feedback has been positive and the cemetery owners would like to make this an annual event.”

Some of the deceased portrayed by the volunteers included Hannah Minshall, the mother of the Painter brothers; a firefighter that died in the 1800’s; a Civil War soldier and 27-year-old Anna Smith, whose family lived in the caretaker’s cottage from approximately 1836 to 1865. When interior renovations began on the house, a box of letters belonging to Anna was discovered hidden in the eaves of the attic. The letters provide a rare glimpse of life in Delaware County during that period. They further revealed that Smith’s little sister died at age six and is believed to be the first to have been buried at the cemetery.

Cumberland Cemetery is the final resting place for many local illustrious residents, including John Tyler, founder of the Tyler Arboretum. To explore some of Fresta’s historical discoveries, visit http://www.cumberlandcemetery.com/history.asp online.

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