LEWISTON – Ghosts stories are commonplace during the Halloween season.
In Lewiston, they also continue to be history lessons.
For the past 18 years the cemetery at Lewiston First Presbyterian Church has been a treasure of history illustrated by re-enactors who introduce visitors to historical characters buried in the cemetery's "Marble Orchard."
Six years ago this walking tour branched out to offer the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks, which are held at 7 p.m. every Saturday in September and October.
The popularity of the walking tours has skyrocketed with up to 200 people joining re-enactors on some nights.
Eva Nicklas, artistic director of the Lewiston Council on the Arts, jokingly calls the growth of the walks "an overnight success."
In truth, it took years to build up the popularity from the days of being part of the Seaway Trail Walking Tours, said Nicklas, herself a re-enactor.
"At Halloween people love their ghost stories, but what I am most proud of is that this nobody is going to jump out from a tombstone and scare you. Everybody who comes to a Marble Orchard Ghost Walk is going to go home with a real dose of real history and not just Lewiston history," Nicklas said.
But that doesn't mean it won't be scary.
"There will also be creepy ghost stories and also some of the gruesome, bloody, horrible things that happened at that time," Nicklas said.
"We talk about some of the sadistic and depraved practices of scientists of those days who were experimenting with electricity, Frankenstein and that sort of thing, but it is based in truth."
About 15 actors participate each night, including Karen Hodge Russell who brings to life Annie Edson Taylor, the first woman to go over the falls in a barrel.
"She's wonderful," Nicklas says of the character. "Very creepy, very funny and very theatrical."
This year the walks include: updated authentic costumes and microphones, funded by grants from Niagara Falls National Heritage and the Niagara Greenway Commission; new characters; new stories, which include a nod to this year's anniversary of the War of 1812; and, for the first time, carriage rides.
"Our audiences have been increasing and increasing over the last three years. We have new microphones so if 200 people do show up they will be able to hear us, and we have rearranged the walks so that the only stops we make along the way are up high so that everyone can hear us," Nicklas said. "We really do try to make the audience happy and still accommodate larger crowds."
She said they encourage everyone to bring a flashlight, both to light a path and to illuminate the actors.
"It's our own built-in automatic lighting system," Nicklas said.
The 90-minute walk covers approximately three blocks, traveling from the first stop at the Frontier House on Center Street to the Lewiston Museum on Plain Street and then to Cayguga Street to the Lewiston First Presbyterian Church, ending at the church's adjacent cemetery.
Tickets are $12 for adults and $6 for children under 12. Carriage rides, offered by Tour D'Elegance of Niagara, are limited to 8 people per night and cost $25 per person for both adults and children.
No reservations are needed for the Marble Orchard Ghost Walks, and tickets may be purchased on the night of the walk in the Lewiston Council on the Arts Peace Garden, adjacent to the Frontier House, 476 Center Street.
"People love ghosts and people love history and to combine the two is magical. And when you have the cast we have, you have a real winning attraction. Nobody goes home disappointed," Nicklas said.