NORWAY — After COVID-19 cancelled almost all of Maine’s festivals, fairs and performances, many organizations in Oxford Hills are scrambling and finding new ways to celebrate fall traditions and events. The First Universalist Church of Norway and the Norway Historical Society have teamed up to present a walk through history at the Rustfield Cemetery, where several of the town’s founders and notable characters are buried.

In Norway, the historical society’s annual Norway History Trolley Tour was called off. But in its place history and Halloween buffs can take a guided tour through the Rustfield Cemetery, located on Greenleaf Avenue. The Graveyard Tours are scheduled for Oct. 30 and 31. There will be three tours each day – on Friday at 4 pm, 5:30 pm and 7 pm, and on Saturday at 1 pm, 2:30 pm and 4 pm.

There will be 20 tickets sold for each tour, available at The Tribune on Main Street. Each tour will be in two groups of 10 to ensure attendees can comfortably social distance from each other.

Joanne McDonald, with the Norway UU Church, came up with the idea after her sister told her about a similar performance her church was planning for Halloween.

“Some of Norway’s earliest residents were laid to rest at the Rustfield Cemetery,” she said. “There are about 40 stones with [legible] names. We had to select characters that the historical society has information on.

“They are interesting folks with wonderful stories and lives we could put into a script. People can learn about some of Norway’s characters.”

The Rustfield Cemetery on Greenleaf Street, where many of Norway’s original settlers were buried. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

McDonald wrote most of the scripts, based on materials that Norway Historical Society Collections Manager Sue Denison provided.

“There are nine characters whose life stories will be told in five minute vignettes, performed by seven re-enactors,” McDonald said. “Some re-enactors decided to dig into their own research. Sue will do a final review of each script for historical accuracy.”

“No legends or big fish stories about Norway Lake,” Denison quipped.

The Norway residents featured in the graveyard tour are:

Asa Barton (1793-1848).  Norway’s first newspaper publisher, who snuck his press away from Paris Hill to Norway under the cover of dark.

Reverend Timothy Tenney, a minister at the First Universalist Church of Norway during the 1840s. Supplied image

Timothy Tenney (1805 or 1807 – 1854). Universalist minister in Norway and who rode a circuit in western Maine to preach at other churches in the 1840s.

Samuel Ames (Circa 1759-1852). The founding resident of what became Norway village, circa 1789. Ames served in Revolutionary War as a drummer. He started the town’s first saw and grist mills.

Edmund Ames (1824-1902). Samuel’s grandson, who was a machinist and piloted steamships throughout western Maine before building and piloting the steamboat Pennesseewassee that worked on Norway Lake in the late 1800s.

Stephen Greenleaf (1779-1854). Norway’s first cabinet maker and furniture maker. He also served in the War of 1812.

Mark P. Smith (1806-1871). Worked in many areas in public service. Smith served as selectman in the 1840s and 50s, as Norway’s town treasurer in 1856-57, and as state representative in 1845.  He also built a tannery where Tannery Street is. The house Smith built serves as headquarters for the Norway Historical.

Anthony (1770-1807) and Nathaniel Bennett 1770-1855) were twins who married sisters. They lived on adjacent farms on Crockett Ridge Road. The brothers came to Norway in 1790-91.

Benjamin Tucker (Circa 1754 – 1826). Tucker moved to Norway in 1801 and worked as the town’s first harness & saddle maker. He built his home & shop on the site where Cumberland Farms currently stands.

Denison will start each tour with a brief presentation on the Rustfield Cemetery, talking about how gravestone materials evolved over the years, starting with slate in the colonial period, and different symbolisms of stone design.

“There are different symbols on gravestones, such as fingers pointing towards Heaven or the weeping willow,” said Denison. “Shaking hands – many think a married couple is grasping hands, but it’s actually about the deceased shaking the hand of God. A lamb indicates that it’s the grave of a child. The tour guides will point out particular stones that depict those traditions.”

Epitaphs of interest will also be presented.

“Asa Barton wrote his own epitaph,” said Denison. “’Aged 54 Years. His Faults are buried with him. Beneath this stone.  His virtues (If he had any) are remembered by his friends.’”

According to Denison and McDonald, the focus is on men of Norway because that is mostly what history has captured. But two of the re-enactors, including McDonald, will be women. They solicited members of the church and historical society to portray Norway’s town fathers of yesteryear. McDonald’s husband, Phil Cosman will portray Asa Barton, the newspaper man.

Asa Barton, the controversial publisher of Norway’s first newspaper. Supplied photo

“Joanne asked me to take a part, and they assigned me to do Asa,” said Cosman. “Apparently Asa was a bit of a wildman and we are somewhat alike. They typecast me.”

Barton established The Oxford Observer in 1824 at Paris Hill, which evolved over the years into what is now the Advertiser Democrat.

“Barton was too radical for the conservative residents of Paris Hill,” said Cosman. “He snuck his press out of there and moved it to Norway in the middle of the night.”

Cosman was active in community theater for more than 15 years when he resided in Maryland. The Rustfield Graveyard Tour marks his first performance since moving to Norway.

“Joanne and I have always been big fans of Colonial Williamsburg re-enactments,” Cosman said. “I’m looking forward to bringing our local history to life. There is a rich history in Norway.”

Longtime Norway Historical Society member and board officer Peter Hammond is tackling two roles – that of Revolutionary War veteran Samuel Ames and his grandson Edmund Ames, a machinist who built the steamship Pennesseewassee and operated it on Norway Lake.

“Samuel was one of Norway’s founding residents,” said Hammond. “He moved to Paris Hill from Massachusetts in 1788 and then Norway, then called Rustfield. He married and raised three children, including Edmund’s father.”

Ames established the first sawmill and gristmill in Norway and also was a founding member of the Norway UU Church. At the age of 17 he joined the Continental Army at the start of American Revolution as a drummer and  was present at the surrender of British General John Burgoyne’s army of 6,200 soldiers in Saratoga in 1777. That surrender is considered to be a great turning point in the war in favor of the Americans.

Hammond will then literally change hats and become Edmund Ames. Born in Norway, the younger Ames worked at mills in Western Maine and operated steamships in Andover, Rangeley and other lake towns. He returned to Norway to build and pilot his own steamship, providing transportation, delivering mail and other supplies at a time when roads were few and generally poorly built.

“The Pennesseewassee had a 100-person capacity,” said Hammond. “And it was used as much for local entertainment during the summer as it was for transportation.”

Mark Smith, a local and state government representative from Norway. Supplied photo

“This has been a real group effort between the church and the historical society,” said Denison. “We pulled it all together just in the last month. We want the whimsy of celebrating Halloween, but it’s also a chance to focus on history, a slice of life of Norway’s early years. No skeletons, no jack-o-lanterns. We are celebrating Norway’s history and the residents of Rustfield Cemetery.”

“This is our first effort but we’d like to do more of these, and get to the point where we can concentrate on what women were doing in Norway,” said McDonald. “The women did their work. They died a lot, had a lot of children that died.”

Other re-enactors participating in the Graveyard Tour are McDonald, Pat Shearman, Joan Beal, Dave Drago and Brian Partridge. Historical society volunteers will guide the tours.

Tickets for the Rustfield Graveyard Tour are $10 each in limited quantities, and can be purchased at The Tribune on Main Street. The event is being held entirely outdoors with social distance precautions. The tour is walker and wheelchair safe, although some performances will be after dark.

 

 

 


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