The spooky tales of the macabre will echo among the 150-year-old tombstones and under gnarled branches of old oak trees.
In the gloomy mid-October evening, scares won’t be hard to come by. And that’s the goal when some of the state’s best storytellers try to scare the pants off people.
“There’s no better place to do a ghost story,” Indianapolis storyteller Sally Perkins said. “It’s outdoors, it’s crowded and it’s dark out. That ambiance is just great for the storytelling.”
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Ghost Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery blends master storytelling with atmospheric setting in what has become a Halloween tradition in central Indiana.
People will plunge into the world of the supernatural, the otherworldly and the strange, from psychological scares to tales of witches and monsters.
“(Ghost stories) are the one type of storytelling that everyone seems to understand and relate to,” said Ellen Munds, executive director of Storytelling Arts of Indiana. “Since we moved into Crown Hill Cemetery, the interest has just grown.”
This year’s group of storytellers come from all over Indiana, and each brings with them a unique style and delivery to hold the audience’s attention.
Deborah Asante has been telling stories since she was a young child, helping to entertain her four siblings. They were an Army family and moved around often. During a stint in Germany, where television was on for only one hour each day, Asante honed her skills.
“I had plenty of time to entertain my siblings. I come from a family of natural storytellers of different styles, so it’s not surprising I am who I am,” she said.
Participating in the program at Crown Hill is one of the programs she looks forward to each year, even if telling a good ghost story is a challenge.
“Hopes are high for a ghost story,” Asante said. “People come and want to be tantalized and thrilled, even scared out of their wits. They might say, ‘Not too scary,’ but they’re hoping that it is.”
Ghost Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery is organized by Storytelling Arts of Indiana, which plans programming and activities around storytelling throughout the year. Some of the group’s other events include Jabberwocky, the Life Stories Project and bedside stories at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health.
The organization partners with the Crown Hill Heritage Foundation to put on the evening of ghost stories, just as it has every year since 2012. The event has become the group’s most popular, Munds said.
Perkins has done the Crown Hill event for six or seven years. She started telling stories as a volunteer in the program with Riley Hospital for Children. As she gained more experience and started enjoying it more, she moved into public performances.
Doing a ghost story program in a cemetery is an opportunity she relishes as a storyteller.
“I love the experience of taking people face to face to a completely different place,” she said. “You can take them completely out of their world at that moment. They go with you to another place. There is simply nothing more magical and powerful to me.”
But for this event, it’s not just the stories that are being told, but the environment that they’re being told in.
Crown Hill Cemetery is the resting place of more than 200,000 people in the center of Indianapolis. Civil War soldiers are buried on the grounds, as are famous people such as President Benjamin Harrison, poet James Whitcomb Riley and gangster John Dillinger.
The rolling hills of the cemetery are dotted with gravestones large and small, from simple limestone slabs to elaborate gothic mausoleums.
To sit in that setting only amplifies the chill factor.
“Crown Hill is so rich in history in itself. Then to place a tradition like this on their grounds, it’s an honor to tell here,” Asante said.
The program is held in an open area of the cemetery, up on a hill overlooking the many grave markers. A tent is set up for people to sit under, though attendees can also bring lawn chairs and blankets, coolers and picnic baskets to the event.
Food trucks will be stationed away from the storytellers for those who want to purchase dinner, Munds said.
Each storyteller will have 20 minutes for their story, so people will have a variety of voices and styles of telling. The participating tellers have been working on their selections and practicing their scares.
“It’s hard to find a good ghost story, because typically the endings are terrible,” Perkins said. “A lot of those stories just kind of fall dead and drop off. So it’s really hard to find one with a compelling ending. So that’s what I’m looking for — what will leave the audience either filled or stunned.”
Ghost Stories at Crown Hill Cemetery
What: Seven storytellers from throughout Indiana will tell a different scary story in the historic setting of Crown Hill Cemetery.
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday; stories start at 7:30.
Where: Crown Hill Cemetery, 3400 Boulevard Place, Indianapolis
Storytellers taking part: Deborah Asante, Indianapolis; Celestine Bloomfield, Indianapolis; Patty Callison, Bloomington; Stephanie Holman, Spencer; David Matlack, Bloomington; Sally Perkins, Indianapolis; and Bob Sander, Indianapolis.
Tickets: Adults, $20 advance, $25 gate; students age 12 and up, $10 advance, $15 gate; families living together under one roof, $50 advance, $55 gate; children under the age of 12, free.
Attendees are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs or blankets, along with picnic baskets and coolers. Several food trucks also will be on site for those who prefer to travel light, including King David Dogs, Byrnes Pizza, Muay Thai Kitchen, and Flying Cupcakes.
The event is staged under a large tent, so it will be held rain or shine.
Information: Tickets can be purchased at GhostStories2017.eventbrite.com.