'Spirit Voices' returns to Bradenton cemetery

mclear@bradenton.comOctober 4, 2013 

It's October, the time of year when the dead come to life in Bradenton's oldest cemetery.

These aren't your typical Halloween ghosts and zombies, though. They're actors portraying 19th century residents of the area, offering a glimpse at the lives and lifestyles of the people who lived here 150 years ago.

The third annual edition of "Spirit Voices From Old Manatee" starts its two-week run Oct. 10 at Manatee Village Historical Park and the Old Manatee Burying Grounds.

The event features costumed actors telling the stories of actual residents of the area -- most now residents of the Old Manatee Burying Grounds -- from the era when white people first started to settle here.

It starts at Manatee Village with a re-creation of a child's wake from the period, then takes visitors across the street to the cemetery, where actors play people actually buried there.

Even though it's Halloween season, the emphasis is on education, not thrills and chills.

"It's all historical," said Phaedra Rehorn, Manatee Village supervisor. "It's not jump-out-and-scare you."

Rehorn allows, however, there's a spooky element to an event taking place in torchlit graveyard in the dark. That's one reason one perfor

mance takes place in the church at Manatee Village Historical Park instead of the cemetery.

"There are some people who just do not want to go into a cemetery at night," Rehorn said. "And it's also a shorter walk."

The gates are will open at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 10-13 and 17-19. Cemetery tours start a half-hour later. It's not recommended for children under 10, just because more of them tend to get bored watching a 75-minute historical drama. The performance on Sunday, Oct. 13, takes place in the church.

Tickets are $15 until Oct. 9 and $17 after that. Call 941-741-4076 to get information or buy tickets.

Only 40 people are allowed into each performance.

This year's event has a couple of new additions. For the first time, the 10-person cast at the graveyard includes an African-American settler and a native American.

June Adams was a freed slave who became a prominent and revered citizen in this area in the 19th century.

The Native American, Polly Parker, was not universally admired.

"She's a really intriguing figure," Rehorn said. "She was either a hero or a traitor, depending whose version you read."

Her own people, the Seminoles, widely considered her a traitor, and she and her second husband, a white man, lived here in something akin to a witness protection program, Rehorn said.

Adams and Parker hadn't been included in previous programs, she said, because the concept had been to confine the dramatis personae to people actually buried in the cemetery.

But because Adams was such a celebrated figure in local history, and because Parker was such a fascinating character, they were included to give audiences a more well-rounded experience of the 19th century life in this area, Rehorn said.

Marty Clear, features writer/columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7919. Follow twitter.com/martinclear.

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