Like her father, Newburyport's Ghlee Woodworth enjoys bringing the dead back to life.
In 2006, Woodworth succeeded her late father, funeral director and local historian Todd Woodworth, as the guide for a walking tour through Newburyport's Oak Hill Cemetery known as "Tiptoe Through the Tombstones."
Todd Woodworth had begun guiding groups through the historic 1842 burying ground at State and Brown streets in 1988, pointing out the graves of prominent Newburyporters and giving capsule descriptions of their claims to fame in life.
After Todd Woodworth died in 2006, his daughter began researching the graves of Oak Hill. While Todd Woodworth's walking tours usually included stops at about 30 graves, Ghlee Woodworth's research identified as many as 140 to 150 interesting stories to tell. Too many for a two-hour walking tour, but not too many for a book.
The result is "Tiptoe Through the Tombstones: Oak Hill Cemetery, Volume 1," which contains about 80 stories of mostly 19th century Newburyporters who left their marks on the city's history.
"These aren't biographies, just a page or two," Woodworth said during a recent stroll along a cemetery pathway known as Highland Avenue.
The short sketches are collected in chapters arranged around themes — for example, a chapter on philanthropists is called "A Helping Hand," another on Newburyport mayors is "The Corner Office."
A variety of figures are profiled: merchants, abolitionists, warriors, captains of ships and industry, politicians, artists and writers. There is even a chapter devoted to newspapermen.
"Tiptoe" is illustrated with contemporary photos of the subjects' monuments and with archival photos and prints from the collections of the Historical Society of Old Newbury and Newburyport Public Library.
The volume includes a map of Oak Hill, drawn by local artist and cartoonist Gary Robinson. The map also divides the cemetery into three self-guided tours, so readers can walk at their own pace.
"I wanted to make it as user-friendly as possible," Woodworth said. "People can go on their own 'Tiptoe' tours."
Woodworth, who for many years was a trainer for the Peace Corps, acknowledges that she is not a professional writer. She credits her editor, Jane Uscilka, with refining her prose and shaping the narratives.
Woodworth has plans to start researching another book next year, on Newburyport's Old Hill Burying Ground behind Bartlet Mall off High Street and adjacent Highland Cemetery on Hill Street.
She also thinks there is another volume in Oak Hill and would like to get permission to do tours and books in some of the other private cemeteries in Newburyport, such as Belleville, St. Mary's and Sawyer Hill.
"It's a different way to read about Newburyport history, to read about the people first," she said. "It's a great introduction for children; it shows that a cemetery doesn't have to be a scary place."
"Tiptoe Through the Tombstones" is currently being bound and should be available within a few weeks for $35. A schedule of book signings will be posted at the Ellen T. Brown Memorial Chapel near Oak Hill Cemetery's main entrance on Brown Street, or visit www.oakhillcemeterynewburyport.com.
Tiptoe Through the Tombstones
Ghlee Woodworth will be conducting a series of Tiptoe Through the Tombstones walking tours during Newburyport's Yankee Homecoming celebration. Admission is free. The schedule is:
Oak Hill Cemetery: Tour the cemetery at State and Brown Streets as well as Brown Chapel, currently under restoration, on Tuesday, July 28, 10 to 11:30 a.m., and Friday, Aug. 1, 2 to 3:30 p.m.
African-Americans in 1800s Newburyport: Learn about the history of Newburyport African-Americans, abolitionists and the underground railroad on a walking tour starting from Brown Square on Pleasant Street across from Newburyport City Hall and traveling to Bartlet Mall on High Street and the adjacent Old Hill Burying Ground. Tours are Saturday, July 25, and Monday, July 27, 10 a.m. to noon and Wednesday, July 29, 2 to 4 p.m.
Cemetery Crawl: Travel to three of Newburyport's cemeteries, starting with Highland Cemetery on Hill Street, then the adjacent Old Hill Burying Ground and finally the graveyard at St. Paul's Episcopal Church across High Street, on Thursday, July 30, 10 a.m. to noon.
Highland Cemetery: Tour the grave sites at the Hill Street cemetery on Friday, July 31, 10 to 11:30 a.m.