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Entertainment

Elmhurst History Museum, Bensenville Park District partner for spooky historical event

Sheila Riley of Naper Settlement to present on Victorian death traditions

Portions of the Elmhurst History Museum and Bensenville Park District's Haunted History at Churchville Schoolhouse and Fischer Farm will take place Oct. 20 at Churchville Schoolhouse and the adjacent Churchville Cemetery in Bensenville.
Portions of the Elmhurst History Museum and Bensenville Park District's Haunted History at Churchville Schoolhouse and Fischer Farm will take place Oct. 20 at Churchville Schoolhouse and the adjacent Churchville Cemetery in Bensenville.

Jessie Sekiya of the Elmhurst History Museum said one question tends to come up a lot among staff and the public who frequent museum facilities that are often old: "Is this building haunted?"

"And so, with Halloween coming up, we just thought it might be fun to explore that side of our buildings and, at the same time, talk about things that people used to do, which weren't necessarily having anything to do with hauntings, but were just kind of creepy in general," said Sekiya, the museum's coordinator of public programs and school services.

The Elmhurst History Museum and Bensenville Park District are partnering to present Haunted History at Churchville Schoolhouse and Fischer Farm from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Oct. 20, in which museum and district staff, along with a subject-matter expert from Naper Settlement, will present mourning traditions of the Victorian Era, which was about the time the Fischer family had their homestead.

Sekiya said people of the Victorian Era memorialized the dead in ways that are distinct from what is commonly done today, including post-mortem photography, in which family members would take a photo with their dead relative staged to look like the person was still alive. This was done to preserve the memory of the individual in an era when cameras were not as readily available as they are today, and people often would die in their childhood, she said.

The event begins at Fischer Farm, 16W680 Grand Ave., Bensenville, where attendees are asked to park and arrive by 5:45 p.m. so they do not miss the hayride's departure to the Churchville Schoolhouse, which is at 3N784 Church Road in Bensenville.

The featured storyteller of the event, Sheila Riley, director of learning experiences at Naper Settlement, has been researching Victorian Era-cemetery and mourning traditions since the 1980s and plans to bring some related artifacts, such as mourning clothing and jewelry, for her presentation.

Riley said people of the Victorian Era, which included much of the 19th century, was named after British Queen Victoria. People often followed the queen's example in her devotion to mourning her husband Prince Albert's death, and mourning became very commercialized, she said.

Death also was "very prevalent" to anyone living in the U.S. at the time, with the Civil War, women often dying in childbirth and the possibility of dying from something as simple as an infected toothache, Riley said.

Participants also will use lanterns to examine symbolism on gravestones at the Churchville Cemetery, listen to stories related to the local area while walking back along the trail in Fischer Woods, learn about the history of Fischer Farm with lantern-lit tours of the farmhouse and log house, make s'mores, and gather around a campfire at Fischer Farm and share their own spooky stories.

Sekiya said staff will focus on local stories that aren't as commonly known, such as the supposed haunting of Mill Theater at Elmhurst College, which she compiled through online research, book research and some tales people told her.

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If you go

WHAT: Haunted History at Churchville Schoolhouse and Fischer Farm

WHEN: 6 to 8:30 p.m. (participants are asked to arrive by 5:45 p.m. to make it onto the hayride)

WHERE: Begins at Fischer Farm, 16W680 Grand Ave., Bensenville, and then goes to Churchville Schoolhouse, 3N784 Church Road, Bensenville

COST: $25; registration, which is limited to people 14 and older, is due by 6 p.m. Oct. 18

INFO: bensenvilleparkdistrict.org, elmhursthistory.org

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