Augustans learn from "spirits" at cemetery



For two days, spirits roamed between the aging grave markers dotting the grounds of Sum­mer­ville Ceme­tery as they recounted memories of their past lives with history enthusiasts.

Guests of all ages stopped to admire the cemetery’s more elaborate markers Sunday while guided by the spirit of Sarah Jane Thomas Hall Falligant, who was portrayed by Michelle Zupan, as they
took part in Historic Au­gus­ta’s seventh annual Walk with the Spirits tour.

“The people just love this tour,” Zupan said. “They really enjoy the fact they can learn a lot about their town’s history in such a fun way. They love the costumes and the characters, but most of all they love the stories.”

Julia Jackson, the programs and marketing director at His­toric Au­gusta, said the organization typically puts on 18 walks – nine each day.

As Zupan led the group, she told the history of the cemetery, which opened in 1824 as a single acre plot, and explained the iconography of the grave stones,
often stopping to let some of the “residents” tell stories of their own.

Volunteers dressed in time-appropriate attire recounted the life stories of their characters, which often had a humorous twist, though many ended in tragedy.

This year’s walk included the likes of former Georgia Gov. John Milledge, former Au­gus­ta Mayor Jacob Phinizy and Mar­tha Furey, the wife of Furey’s Ferry founder John Furey.

The walk is planned for months in advance in order to find characters, Jackson said.

“This cemetery and Mag­no­lia Cemetery have such a wealth of people to choose from that it can be hard to pick,” she said. “We end up just walking a potential route to see who sticks out and who has interesting stories to tell.”

The program has yet to repeat any characters from previous walks, she said.

“We could probably go 100 years into the future and still never repeat,” she said. “There are so many people here that it’s unbelievable.”

Iris DuBois, who joined friend Betty Meehan on the first walk of the day, said she learned more on the tour than she did in her time as a history major at Augusta State University.

“It was beautiful,” she said. “I loved the stories and the spirit actors. It makes me realize the rich history that Au­gusta has.”

Meehan, who was more intrigued by the large, gothic-style grave markers, said she was surprised to recognize the names of the many people buried in the cemetery.

“I still know some people around Augusta today who carry the same last name,” she said. “It’s just amazing. I definitely want to come back next year.”