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‘Dead’ teach history at Maple Grove event

Maple Grove Cemetery came to life Saturday afternoon just in time for Halloween.

The fifth-annual Spirits Alive event was a fun day at the usually somber 65-acre Kew Gardens graveyard, with historical interpreters playing the parts of people buried there throughout its long history.

Zachariah Dennler was a renowned 19th-century surgeon who found himself at the crossroads of history, politics and fate one spring evening in 1865. Jackson Heights resident Ferghus’ Pawlowski brought him back to life at the Saturday event with a full costume and tales of the evening that made him famous.

“I’m a surgeon who was supposed to be at the performance of ‘Our American Cousin’ where Abe Lincoln was shot. I had tickets to attend the show and I didn’t end up going, but they used my equipment to remove the bullet lodged 7 inches behind Lincoln’s left eye,” he said.

Dennler was just one of the many interesting characters who walked the Maple Grove grounds, entertaining guests and bringing a bit of history into their lives. Other resurrected personas included President Theodore Roosevelt, who told of his close friendship with famed journalist Jacob Riis, who is buried at Maple Grove; Lucia Cataldi, a World War II bride from Naples, Italy, laid to rest in Maple Grove; and popular novelist Marie Corelli, whose brother Henry Cody is buried at the crest of the sloped yard.

“The whole idea is that all of us who are alive right now are really a small group compared to all of us who are dead. We need to have places where we can go and relate to the past. We’re really trying to encourage people to use cemeteries as parks and places to come and learn,” said Bonnie Thompson Dixon, executive vice president and general manager of the cemetery.

The prospect of learning some history and experiencing one of the borough’s intriguing historical sites is what brought Ozone Park residents Ken and Chrisie Konrad to the event.

“It was very interesting to see the different people who were buried here who contributed to the formation of Queens,” Ken Conrad said. “You don’t really hear about it, you don’t really know it until you come to a tour like this.”

Their daughter, Samantha Konrad, 8, said she also had a great time exploring the graveyard and hearing the stories of the dead.

“I learned about different things like people who are buried here and stories about them,” she said. “It was really interesting.”

The event was also a blast for the actors and actresses like Richmond Hill resident Marie Colicchio, who played the part of Corelli, telling tales of the eccentric writer who was known for having her own gondola and gondolier.

“I’m having a lot of fun. It’s great, I like being in character. People seemed very interested in the people they’re visiting and they asked a lot of questions” she said. “Cemeteries are very historical places and this is a way for people to see how it was 100 years ago, and you can compare it to today.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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