, Newburyport, MA

October 22, 2013

Haunted Newburyport

Historical Society plans event on Port's darker side

By Katie Lovett
City Editor

---- — What’s Halloween season without some ghoulish fun and a few spooky moments?

At least that’s how the Historical Society of Old Newbury sees it.

The Historical Society is hosting for the second time a seasonal-themed fundraiser, designed to spread some fun, teach participants a little about some of the city’s historical figures — and maybe even send a few chills down your spine.

“Halloween Haunting” is set for Friday from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Oak Hill Cemetery on Brown Street. Participants can take a horse-drawn wagon through Oak Hill Cemetery as an emcee on board shares stories of prominent Newburyporters buried there and how they died — along with what life was like in 18th- and 19th-century Newburyport.

The event is for adults only and attendees are encouraged to dress in costume, according to co-chairwoman Colleen Turner Secino.

“We just wanted to do something fun to try and bring the community together,” she said.

Revelers will hear 15 stories about some of the cemetery’s residents — including some of Newburyport’s more notorious figures, such as Alfred Peyton, a drifter who was suspected of murder in California and Washington before moving to Newburyport in the early 1980s. He became the part-time caretaker of the cemetery... before he murdered an 87-year-old woman and a 17-year-old girl. After his arrest, he spent the rest of his life in a Midwestern prison, where he died a few years ago.

And they’ll learn about about some of the city’s more prominent past residents, too, such as Donald McKay, a famous Newburyport shipbuilder and his family, and the Wills family, one of the few Newburyport families involved in the Calcutta shipping trade.

Turner Secino said the groups will also get a little lore and gore — after all, it is Halloween — as they hear about the trend of grave-robbing and body snatching in Newburyport in the 1700s and early 1800s, and the more gruesome ways that some people died.

“It’s creepy,” Turner Secino said of why she thinks the event is so popular. “Sometimes, with Halloween, you lose sight of the ghoulish aspect of it. And this has local history. It actually makes history come alive, ironically with the dead.”

In addition to the tour through the graveyard, the festivities will be a little bigger this year, and will also include a tarot card reader, spooky music and refreshments. At 7 p.m., three local “celebrities” will compete in an apple-bobbing contest.

The contestants include Lt. Jeffrey Brunelle, commanding officer of the Salvation Army, Jeffrey Gray, president of the Newburyport Education Foundation, and Claude Elias, the owner of Oregano Pizzeria and committee chairman of Cub Scouts Pack 21 of Newburyport.

The tours last about 20 minutes, she added, leaving participants plenty of time for refreshments after leaving the wagon.

Organizers say they are prepared for the crowds that arrived at last year’s inaugural event.

“Last year it was so popular we had to turn nearly 100 people away,” Turner Secino said. “This year, we’re bigger, better and spookier. No one will be turned away.”

To purchase tickets or to learn more, visit Tickets are $25.