Author Thea Lewis started Queen City Ghostwalk in 2002 and has been scaring audiences in Chittenden County ever since. In the season leading up to this Halloween, she took on two new tour guides: Holli Bushnell, a sexton for the Burlington cemeteries, and Rebecca Ryskalczyk, a musician and composer. The duo led evening tours of about 30 youths and adults through Burlington's Lakeview Cemetery, stopping at notable gravestones to share local history and ghost stories. In her latest episode of "Stuck in Vermont," Seven Days senior multimedia producer Eva Sollberger joined the spooky tour under a full moon.
Sollberger spoke with Seven Days about filming the episode.
Why did you pick this story?
I have always loved cemeteries and have spent a lot of time in them over the years. They are so peaceful and pleasant to explore. The graves are rich in history, and the green spaces often have nicely designed walking paths. When I travel, I usually visit the local graveyard. I have strolled among the cities of the dead in Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, Dorotheenstadt Cemetery in Berlin and my family's burial ground in Bleienbach, Switzerland. My Swiss immigrant grandparents are buried in a small cemetery in Elgin, Iowa. The area is called Little Switzerland due to all the Swiss people who settled there in the 1800s.
But I don't spend a lot of time in cemeteries at night. Lakeview Cemetery is a beautiful, parklike space, with twisty paths and views of the lake. I jumped at the chance to explore it at night with a group of flashlight-wielding individuals.
It certainly was dark. Was that a challenge?
Yes, I didn't realize how dark it would be. The tour started at 6 p.m., and it was pitch-black 15 minutes later. Video cameras have difficulty in low light, and my iPhone was struggling to record the blurry flashlight images. I did have a light on my camera, but I didn't want to ruin other people's creepy tour experience, so I didn't use it the entire time.
Tour videos are always hard to shoot, because you are walking and filming, trying not to trip. After making 701 "Stuck" videos, I have sort of accepted that they are never perfect. You just get what you get, warts and all.
Were you scared?
I rarely feel frightened in a cemetery. If I ever do get nervous, it is because of the living, never the dead. I find graveyards to be safe and meditative. I imagine there are malevolent spirits out there, but I have been lucky enough to avoid them. I interviewed two young tour-goers named Willa and Jonah who had an interesting take on this. Willa likes to be scared, but not so much that she has bad dreams. Jonah likes to have his pants scared off. Everyone has their own preference when it comes to fear.
Have you filmed in cemeteries before?
I have done a few cemetery tours for "Stuck in Vermont," including one of Lakeview Cemetery with Preservation Burlington in 2017. I used some of local photographer James Buck's drone footage from that video in this one. You really have to see the cemetery from the air to observe its curved pathways, elegant trees and proximity to the lake. I also did a tour of Green Mount Cemetery in Montpelier with cemetery historian Daniel Barlow in 2019. And I made a video in 2021 about Jason Stuffle, who cleans graves at Greenmount Cemetery in Burlington. In truth, this video series should probably be called "Stuck in a Cemetery"!
This is your second video on Queen City Ghostwalk, right?
In 2016, I followed Thea on her Darkness Falls tour in downtown Burlington. There are more lights downtown, which made my camera happy. It was also really entertaining traipsing through back alleys and seeing my town from a different angle. There is something so magical about Halloween. People wear disguises and enjoy the thrill of hearing ghost stories. It is one of my favorite holidays.
The music in this episode is spooky!
Rebecca was kind enough to share some of her creepy music to help the video come alive. She has written the eerie score for a short horror film called "Ouchie." Unsettling music adds to the ambience of stalking around a graveyard at night, with only the beams of flashlights to guide you.