Depreciation Lands Museum lantern tours sets mood for witch accusations

Monday, October 14, 2019 | 12:01 AM


Mary Bliss Parsons’ fate will be determined next weekend.

She’s on trial for witchcraft in the 18th century and the story of this year’s Lantern Tours, happening Oct. 19 and 26 at the Depreciation Lands Museum on S. Pioneer Road in Allison Park.

Guests will hear either arguments supporting the witchcraft accusations or defenses for her actions, all by the Talley Cavey residents as they walk by lantern light throughout the colonial village and its authentic cemetery dating back to the 1830s.

Karen Parsons, coordinator of museum events, said the lantern tours have been part of the fall program repertoire for more than 10 years. The family-friendly event isn’t too scary, but she does recommend ages 7 and older. For instance, they do share some real and sometimes “gruesome,” unorthodox treatment for ailments of the time period, she said.

Each year they tell a different story, but it’s always based on a real event. Mary Bliss Parsons was accused of witchcraft in the 1600s in Massachusetts, but whether she was acquitted in real life or not, the outcome could be different at Talley Cavey.

This year’s script was written by a summer intern at Depreciation Lands Museum, Julia Felton, who is a junior at La Roche University.

Felton, of Cecil, Pa., said they had used Mary Parsons in previous lantern tours so she had some background on the historical figure. She did additional research on folklore, witchcraft and the time period to create a new script for Parsons.

She thinks it’s more mysterious than scary.

“We’ve incorporated some spooky stories about witchcraft and some local folklore about how to keep evil spirits at bay,” said Felton.

She said it’s based on historical accounts of ‘witches,’ as well as historic traditions revolving around witchcraft and evil spirits.

She said the things they’ve researched were superstitions that truly were common beliefs in this area.

“We’re talking about people who really were accused of witchcraft. We are telling these stories as accurately as possible based on real historical witch trials and beliefs,” said Felton, 20.

Felton is studying Journalism and Professional Writing, with minors in history and political science and a professional focus in cultural affairs.

Visitors can arrive for the lantern tours anytime between 6 to 9 p.m. with the last tour leaving at 9 p.m. Cost is $7 for adults, nonmembers and members, and $5 for children 11 and younger. Parsons said the event, started by teen volunteers years ago, is very popular.

Dennis Raible, a Shaler resident and longtime volunteer at the museum, said it’s one of their best attended events.

He also turns into an 18th-century village blacksmith during the lantern tours. The blacksmith shop is where a lot of socializing would happen and he and a friend from the village will discuss with the tour guests their reasons for defending Parsons or not.

“We hope to be the voice of colonial logic,” said Raible.

A lot of his discussion on folklore remedy for the evening was derived from a book his wife found of real things people would use or do to fix ailments, such as burying apples to cure a cough or having a child run through a blackberry bush three times to fix other medical issues.

Parsons said one supposed cure would involve dipping children in freezing cold water outdoors as a cure for problems. This all led to the actual accusations of witchcraft practice for the time period.

The tour goes on clear skies or not, and Raible said a little cold and dampness tends to create the appropriate atmosphere for the event. Plus, the cabin and school house both have fires for warmth and light.

Parsons said after guests tour the village by lantern, they will visit the real cemetery, where they can talk about the many interesting villagers whose bodies rest there.

“It’s spooky, but in a nice way,” said Raible.

Then tour guests are guided to the Deacons Tavern where they can enjoy hot cider, cookies, music from the time period and one more story, said Parsons. Also, they’ll be asked to cast their vote as to whether Parsons was guilty or not.

They will reveal her outcome before the night’s over, she said.

Parsons also said to look for other upcoming events at the museum, including a Doll Tea for children ages 5 to 12 on Jan. 26 and a weaving and spinning class in March. Visit the www.dlmuseum.org for more information.