Corpses within body of law

Berlin Historical Society chairman Chris Kalupa walks past the graveyard at Oakwood Cemetery. She, along with others, will lead groups of people Saturday, Oct. 15 during the 14th-annual Ghost Walk. Hannah Tetzlaff photo

Berlin Ghost Walk features theme based on lawyers

by Hannah Tetzlaff

The Berlin Historical Society will give the Latin term for body of law — “Corpus Juris” — a new meaning Saturday, Oct. 15 as lawyers present cases from beyond the grave during the 14th-annual Ghost Walk.

This year’s walk, which features the theme, “Corpus Juris: A Post Mortem Examination of Berlin’s ‘Bodies of Law.’” will take place at 6:30 p.m. at Oakwood Cemetery.

The society is focusing the event on those who were once involved with the law, such as judges and attorneys, and is giving a brief history on the deceased individuals.

“What we do is we take groups to the cemetery, and there is a tour guide that takes a group — anywhere from 15-25 people through the cemetery,” Berlin Historical Society chairman Chris Kalupa said. “It’s a dark walk because it’s at night, so we use flashlights. As we walk through, we give stories about customs and a historical area like potter’s field.”

She added the society also performs about five mini-skits that are set-up throughout the cemetery and focus on people that fit the year’s theme.

“The members act them out or some of our friends,” Berlin Historical Society Vice President Bobbie Erdmann said. “They portray either the particular person that we’re talking about and they’ll come out and act as if they are talking to the group or they’re talking to each other and the group is witnessing. They’ll talk about something about their life or a particular incident.”

Erdmann noted performers try to dress in costumes that reflect the period and occupations of their chosen person.

“The other year, when we did [the] Civil War, my husband portrayed a doctor who was involved in the Civil War,” she said. “He had an apron full a blood; it was actually a butcher’s apron from J.T.’s Foods, [but it looked] like a doctor that does a lot of amputations.”

Besides costumes, the members also use props in their skits to help create a realistic scene and ambiance.

“I know one year, one of the stories we talked about was this lady that got mad at the mayor and she kept breaking his windows,” Erdmann said. “The audience never saw her, but she was in the background. They kept hearing this god-awful cackle and then they’d hear breaking glass. She had a box with glass in it and she kept on breaking it.”

Even though the cemetery walk involves skits with costumes and props, the society’s goal isn’t to frighten anyone.

“We don’t try to scare anybody,” Erdmann said. “Even though it’s nighttime and you’re walking through a cemetery … it’s still lighthearted and more history [than scary stories].”

According to Erdmann and Kalupa, the purpose of the walks is to give a history lesson, but in a fun way, where people can learn about Victorian-era burying practices, customs, symbols on monuments and Berlin’s local history.

“We try to relate it to the history, the times and what people would have gone through in the earlier years,” Erdmann said. “This year, with the lawyers, we are going to be having J.J. Wood … [He was] an attorney and later a mayor, and he actually officiated at the ‘white man’s’ funeral of Chief Highknocker, — who is one of the most well-known Indians in both Berlin and Green Lake.”

She noted it was the city attorney who came up with the name of this year’s theme.

Despite having completed various themes such as the Civil War, the hospital, politicians and local politics, the historical society never runs out of history or legends.

In fact, one of the most popular legends concerning Oakwood Cemetery that comes up almost every year is John Orr and his grave.

“There’s a local legend about John Orr,” Erdmann said. “He is buried with three women and the rumor that went around was that he killed his wives because they died rather young. It turns out they were actually daughters-in-law and not his wives. His only wife is buried with him.”

She noted that his grave is one of few above-ground sarcophaguses and has an unfathomable marking engraved on it.

The short sword and indent have led people to depict John Orr as a murder. Because of these tales and mysterious grave decorations, Orr is one of Berlin’s most well-known legends.

The short sword and indent have led people to depict John Orr as a murder. Because of these tales and mysterious grave decorations, Orr is one of Berlin’s most well-known legends.

“There is a symbol on the top on his lid that is an arm holding a short sword and no one is able to interpret why he has a short sword, which is what perpetrated the murder thing,” Erdmann said. “Also, there is an indent in the lid and when it rains, the water turns red.

Now it’s a reaction to the material in the stone … but [it can look like blood].”

The mysterious grave of Orr is just one of many in the Oakwood Cemetery that the Berlin Historical Society may discuss in its ghost walk.

With lawyers in the grave and a body of law to uphold, dead men will tell their tales.