Ghostwalks: Historical Figures Come to Life in Syracuse

By Mary Beth Roach

Nancy Roberts and Scott Peal have been involved with Historic Ghostwalks for decades. Peal coordinates the events.

The Onondaga Historical Association brings some ghosts alive on the streets of downtown Syracuse and in a section of one local cemetery each year.

With a talented pool of actors, Scott Peal, education specialist at the OHA, puts together Historic Ghostwalks — walking tours with the actors cast as local historical figures.

One tour, in early June, will center around the OHA Museum on Montgomery Street.

Titled “Syracuse Forever,” visitors will meet various historic characters, from a cub reporter to an early leader.

Peal, 70, has been overseeing these tours for about 15 years — developing the stories, researching, writing the scripts, casting the players and selecting the costumes from the collection the OHA has amassed over the years from donations and other stage companies or drama departments that have closed.

The downtown walks include five stops along the way. At each one, an actor or two gives a vignette, about 10 minutes long, describing the role their character has played in history. They will often interact with the audience and answer questions.

Nancy Roberts and John Sposato, both 73 and Syracuse residents, have been involved in the Ghostwalks for more than a decade.

Roberts brings a great deal of experience to her roles with the Ghostwalks. She has even helped to create some of the scripts for the event.

Central New Yorkers will recognize Roberts from her years of hosting various programs on WCNY and Newchannels (the former Time Warner). She has also done live theater locally and regionally and has been cast in two movies.

She said that she doesn’t do a lot of research on the people she portrays, drawing instead on the clues in the script.

“There’s so much in the script that Scott tries to incorporate, in terms of what their story is, where they came from, what they did that was remarkable or notable,” she explained.

Among her favorite characters are the colorful Grace Crouse and pioneering Hannah Danforth. Grace, an actress in the 1800s, claimed that she had been married to Edgar Crouse, of the well-known and wealthy Crouse family. Grace also claimed to have borne Edgar a daughter and therefore, was entitled to a portion of the Crouse estate when Edgar died at the young age of 49. Hannah, and her husband, Asa Danforth, were two of the earliest settlers in the area.

Roberts said she has enjoyed discovering what the Danforths had to go through living in the wilderness.

While Sposato doesn’t have an acting background, he said he has always loved history and this gives him the perfect opportunity to delve into it even more.

“I enjoy learning about some of the specific characters and enhance my knowledge, enhance my desire to know more,” he said.

The next Ghostwalk is June 9-10 and June 16-17 in downtown Syracuse. Tickets are currently available at cnyhistory.org/ghostwalk and are $15 each. Each tour runs about an hour and 15 minutes. There are eight scheduled tours each night, the first one beginning at 5:30, with the last one leaving at 7:15. The downtown tour starts and ends at the OHA Museum at 321 Montgomery St. The museum is handicapped accessible and the walks take place outdoors on the city sidewalks.

Ghostwalks are also scheduled Sept. 8, 9 and 10  in Oakwood Cemetery, near Syracuse University, but its gravel walkways can be challenging for those in wheelchairs.  Look for more information on those Walks later in the summer.

Those interested in becoming an actor or guide for the walks can contact Peal at 315-428-1864 or at Scott.Peal@cnyhistory.org