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Brownhelm Cemetery's 'If Tombstones Could Talk' takes grave view of history

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    Marcia DePalma, of Brownhelm Township, speaks about the character she will be playing during an upcoming history tour hosted at Brownhelm Cemetery. DePalma will be playing Amanda Bacon, who was an early resident of Lorain County.

    KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

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    Norm Miller, of Amherst, speaks about the character he will be playing during an upcoming history tour hosted at Brownhelm Cemetery. Miller will be playing Col. Henry Brown, who was an early resident of Lorain County and a prominent business man at the time.

    KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

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    George Bacon, who was a Revolutionary War soldier, is just one of the Bacon family members buried at Brownhelm Cemetery.

    KRISTIN BAUER | CHRONICLE

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BROWNHELM TWP. — A quick glance around Brownhelm Cemetery yields glimpses of many broken, leaning headstones whose surprising artistry and inscriptions can barely be made out.

Despite this impression of age and decay, the place teems with life.

“Each stone has a cool story,” according to Marcia DePalma, program chairwoman for the Brownhelm Historical Association, which is hosting its third annual “If Tombstones Could Talk” walk in the cemetery at North Ridge and Sunnyside roads 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday.

The free event features a dozen costumed re-enactors who portray early settlers and prominent residents of the area buried in the cemetery.

Each will share stories of the life and times of the historic figure they portray.

“It’s fun to walk through here,” DePalma said of the cemetery. “These people are like my friends.”

One of the livelier tales derives from the grave of Hannah James, the second wife of Ezekiel Goodrich, a well-known cabinetmaker. The couple had several children before divorcing in 1837.

“You can imagine tongues wagging over that,” DePalma said. “That just wasn’t done then. It was unheard of.”

Another deals with George Bacon Sr., who lived to age 85, but who at the tender age of 17 helped dump tea into Boston Harbor during a Revolutionary War-era episode forever known as the Boston Tea Party.

And there’s the grave of Grandison Fairchild, who lived to age 98, and was the grandson of James H. Fairchild, third president of Oberlin College and fervent abolitionist who took part in the 1858 Oberlin-Wellington Slave Rescue of fugitive slave John Price.

DePalma appears as Amanda Church Bacon, wife of William S. Bacon, the grandson of Benjamin Bacon, one of Lorain County’s best-known pioneering settlers whose resume ranged from justice of the peace and county commissioner to businessman and owner of Bacon’s Mills at the present-day site of the Mill Hollow Reservation of the Lorain County Metro Parks.

DePalma’s mother, who is 88, will portray Amanda Bacon’s mother, Anna Bacon, who was Benjamin Bacon’s third wife.

Both have become well-versed in the stories of their characters over the years.

“She jokes that if she has to go to the hospital and they ask her name, she’ll say Anna Bacon,” DePalma said.

As for the wealth of knowledge she possesses about so many of those buried there, DePalma said “it’s like I have a book in my head.”

The cemetery walk sprang from an inspiration of Marilyn Brill, a longtime member of the historical association who had enjoyed a similar program in a cemetery in the Solon area.

“We talked about it and knew we both had costumes,” DePalma said.

The first two walks in 2014 and 2015 proved quite popular.

Re-enactor Norm Miller, another avid local history buff, portrays Col. Henry Brown, a New Englander — as were many who settled the area — and successful businessman and civic leader who was a key founder of Brownhelm in 1816.

A devout advocate of education, Brown helped form Oberlin College, and was instrumental in the development of others, including today’s Case Western Reserve University.

Miller spoke of the prevalence of depression, drug use and darkness of literature and poetry in 1817, a year associated with many buried in the cemetery.

“It was known worldwide as the year without a summer,” Miller said.

Farm crops were devastated globally, as was livestock that perished due to ash in the wake of volcanic eruptions the year before including the explosion of Mount Tambora near the Indonesian island of Java.

Both DePalma and Miller lament the number of badly deteriorated headstones, some of which lie in pieces on the ground, while others have become dislodged from their original locations.

“So many times people are told care (of graves) is up to the families, but in so many cases there isn’t anyone left to do it,” DePalma said.

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.

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