Heritage Avon Lake's "Theater of the Dead" returns to Folger Home

Photo courtesy of Heritage Avon Lake

Sherry Spenzer, vice president of Heritage Avon Lake, gets the word from a skeleton of what bones to pick during the "Theater of the Dead" performance the next two Friday and Saturdays at the Folger Home.

AVON LAKE - Members of Heritage Avon Lake will no longer be digging up bones from under the stones at the city's historic Lake Shore Cemetery — but one of the spirits may have a bone to pick with the city.

For the fifth year, the local history group will bring the spirits back to life in a live production called “Theater of the Dead: Stories from Lake Shore Cemetery.” The performances will be held this weekend and next at the Folger Home, 32770 Lake Road. Members of the city's historical society will raise the spirits of once-prominent Avon Lake residents. They will dress like them, act like them and tell their stories.

The popular performance has long replaced the program, Bones from under the Stones, which also featured stories about those buried in Lake Shore Cemetery.

Theater of the Dead will be presented at 5:45 pm. and 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and Oct. 25 and 26. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at www.heritageavonlake.org or the night of the show. Lake Shore Cemetery is the old graveyard along Lake Road next to Veterans Memorial Park where some of the city's earliest settlers and military veterans are buried. Many of the families have roads named after them such as Moore, Schwartz and Jaycox (also spelled Jacox on some gravestones). Some are stories of survival; others are stories of sadness and tragedy.

The performances will be narrated by HAL Vice President Sherry Spenzer, who will introduce the characters and banter with stagehand Tony Tomanek, the group’s president.

"Each year, we bring back different people so we don't repeat some of the past stories we've already told,” Spenzer said. “We want to keep the stories new and somewhat fresh so people keep coming back.”

Proceeds will benefit HAL.The production coincides with the recent release of Spenzer's book, “Lake Shore Cemetery of Avon Lake.” The group will be selling copies of the book for $20.

One resident whose life and story will be told is Dr. John Pipes, one of the city's first doctors.

"Dr. Pipes signed many of the death certificates of the people buried in the cemetery, and his story will be a review of those people," Spenzer said. “He knew the cause of death for many of those people, and he'll let us know how they wound up in Lake Shore Cemetery."

The sad story of Samuel Jaycox and his wife, Sarah, also will be told. A sign of the times, Jaycox and his wife died of asphyxiation from a kettle of coals burning in their bedroom. Burning coals inside metal kettles or boxes in rooms were a way for people to stay warm on winter nights back then.

There's also the story of the injustice done to Henrietta Moore - who lost her family's farm due to the underhanded actions of an unscrupulous mayor.

The suspense also is building as the spirit of Anton Tomanek - one of the city's first postmasters is not at rest.

Tomanek, died in 1926 at age 66. He came to the United States with his father, Anton, from Arabia in 1865. Anton worked as a carriage maker at the Lowman Carriage Co. in Cleveland and was one of Avon Lake's early settlers.

Tony Tomanek will emerge as a surprise character toward the end of the play as Anton the postmaster - jokingly at odds with the city because the Tomanek family does not have a road named after them.

As the story goes, when the family submitted their last name to the city more than a century ago, city leaders maybe were not able to read the name Tomanek. Thus, Tomahawk Drive was derived from it, the city's most eastern street that runs south of Lake Road.

Reasoning through Tony Tomanek, the spirit of Anton Tomanek comes back to haunt the city by saying, "The Moores have a road named after them. The Jaycoxes have a road named after them. Why not us? The Tomaneks have been here for nearly 200 years, too.”

Free refreshments and unspirited beverages will be served after the performances, Spenzer said.

"The spirits will be the ones telling the stories," she said.

Contact this reporter at msakal@westlifenews.com, or 440-871-5797.

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