Show at Center Cemetery in Southampton will showcase town’s historical figures

  • Southampton’s Center Cemetery. Gazette file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 10/22/2020 8:14:17 PM

SOUTHAMPTON — Center Cemetery will provide a one-of-a-kind stage this Saturday, allowing performers to tell the stories of nine deceased residents of Southampton who are buried there.

The performance is sponsored by the Southampton Historical Society, and will take place over six 20-minute periods from 3 to 5 p.m.

“I just think it’s an interesting idea to get the town more involved,” said Chris Fowles, a member of the Historical Society’s board of directors.

Nine actors will portray nine people buried in the cemetery. Luminaries will light the way for participants, and a guide will lead each group to pumpkin-decorated graves, where actors playing those buried there will share details from the deceased’s lives in the first person.

Some of the deceased are being played by their descendants. That’s the case for Clara Gunn, a 19th-century schoolteacher who is being played by her great-granddaughter, Candice Iwanicki.

Gunn married William Bradford Gunn in Sunderland, and Iwanicki notes that “Bradford bought the land I’m now living on.”

Iwanicki said she’s memorizing her lines and that “it’s actually more natural” playing someone she’s related to.

Others being portrayed are a doctor and a minister.

“We tried to get a variety of people,” said Tammy Walunas, president of the Historical Society.

Charlie Fisher is playing the Rev. Jonathan Judd, who died in 1803, the first residential minister of what would become Southampton.

“Jonathan Judd’s wife was an ancestor of mine,” Fisher noted.

Fisher’s fifth great-grandfather, Israel Sheldon, was the cousin of Silence Sheldon Judd, Jonathan Judd’s wife. Israel was one of the first settlers of the town, and Fisher lives in the house that Israel built in the 1700s. Fisher is the eighth generation of his family to live in this house.

“I don’t think there are too many people who can make that claim,” he said.

Judd establishing himself as a minister helped Southampton become a town, as at that time in Massachusetts a town required a church to be established.

Three of the deceased are being played by drama students from Hampshire Regional High School, with two more Hampshire Regional students volunteering to help with the production, one as a guide and another as a check-in person. One of the students acting in the production is 15-year-old sophomore Mimi Hilnbrand of Westhampton. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time she’ll perform this school year.

Hilnbrand will play Dr. Sylvester Woodbridge, who she researched for the role. One detail that she learned about the doctor involved his watermelon patch.

“Some of the village kids would steal his watermelons, so he added ipecac to them,” Hilnbrand said. “That’s a drug that makes people throw up.”

Walunas said that the maximum number of people allowed in a group for each performance is 12, plus a guide, but organizers are trying to make each group fewer than 10 people. “I want everybody to feel safe,” she said.

Attendees will be required to wear masks at the performances, although the performers themselves will not be masked. She also said people attending are encouraged to socially distance from those not in their pods.

The six groups that tour the cemetery Saturday will experience the same performances. Walunas said that the event is being done in a tasteful manner and that the performances are “trying to get more of our town history out.”

Walunas also praised the costuming efforts of some of the cast. “Some of the costumes are incredible,” she said.

Walunas said that while the performances are free to attend, people will be able to donate to the society at the event, and that donations will be appreciated.

Those looking to attend a performance can message the society on Facebook at or email

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