OSWEGO — The annual Oswego Town Rural Cemetery: Ghost and History Storytelling Tour will appear virtually this year, with a total of five online showings from Nov. 27 to 29.
SUNY Oswego faculty members Jonel Langenfeld-Rial and Joshua Adams, with a variety of student talent, will make the supernatural tales come alive.
The event will be streamed five times: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 27, and at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 28 and 29. The event is free but online tickets are required.
The idea was initially pitched a few years back by Rev. George DeMass, president of the Oswego Town Historical Society. Langenfeld-Rial, a theater faculty member, said it has now been five years since she incorporated the cemetery storytelling part of her storytelling course, based in social justice.
Because of pandemic restrictions, Langenfeld-Rial turned to Adams, who teaches in cinema and screen studies, and his students to make a film to continue the tradition.
The filming process followed all health and safety guidelines as outlined by New York state and the Centers for Disease Control. The live event had previously unfolded Halloween weekend, but the team decided to work on a longer timeline to ensure the new project was done well.
Students in her class researched the people buried in the cemetery or individuals who had an impact in Oswego and the rest of the world, Langenfeld-Rial said. This can include historical figures such as Dr. Mary Walker, a physician and the only woman to win the Congressional Medal of Honor, and Gerrit Smith, an abolitionist who funded the creation of the Oswego Public Library.
Usually, there are around 16 students in the class, and each student researches and represents anywhere between two and three characters.
Connecting with community
Langenfeld-Rial, who lived in Hawaii for nearly 20 years, said she almost immediately felt a connection with the Oswego area.
“When I got involved in doing more storytelling of the area, I started seeing all these connections to Hawaii,” she said. “When you live by a large body of water that means there’s also a lot of maritime history.” In both cases, the location means a lot of interesting characters coming into and inhabiting their communities.
The location both adds to the ambiance and provides a venue for storytelling.
“Ever since I was a child I’ve been very drawn to cemeteries. I find them very peaceful, and whenever I’m in them I just get lots of information,” Langenfeld-Rial said.
She grew up in a huge family, part of the reason why she was drawn to storytelling from a young age.
“I just love learning about people’s lives, and I think that’s why I’ve always wanted to be an actress,” she said. “I’ve been an actress since I was a child, and I feel it’s really important to tell people’s stories. The more you can tell someone else’s story, the more you learn about them.”
One of the students in Adams’ filmmaking course is junior Seung Guk “Damon” Park, who is helping with the editing process and bringing this year’s cemetery storytelling tour to life.
“The biggest challenge was wind and sunlight, because we’re outside of the cemetery so it’s a natural environment, so we have to worry about the right sunlight because once the sun goes down we can’t shoot anymore,” Park said. “For some of the shoots we had to get the shots, edit it up and then have our actors come in another day and verbally dub it in.”
Tickets are available online at tickets.oswego.edu.