Johnstown Independent

Bicentennial celebration

Re-enactors at Bigelow cemetery on Oct. 27

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Pictured are members of the Civil War and Revolutionary War re-enactment group that will be part of a "Living History" event at Bigelow Park on Sunday, Oct. 27. They are (front row, from left) 7-year-old Jordan Ellis as Sarah Hill, 1-year-old Aliyah Grover as little Rebecca Hill, 5-year-old Nathan Bush as Tilton Hill, 9-year-old Lauren Ellis as Marcy Hill, (second row) 13-year-old James Lang as a member of the Spirit of 76 group, Sally Conrad as Rachael Baker Scovill, Bruce Tolle as a member of the Spirit of 76 group, Troy Hendren as Caleb Hill, Chuck Kessler as Dr. Oliver Bigelow, 16-year-old Jordan Miller as a member of the Spirit of 76 group, (back row) 17-year-old Leyna Bohning as a member of the Spirit of 76 group, Chris Speck as John Cummins, Sharon Hendren as Mary Todd Lincoln, 11-year-old Chase Van Deest as Robert Lincoln, Elizabeth Schwartz as Rebecca Rose Hill, Mike Heffley as a member of the Spirit of 76 group and Jim Lenner as President Abraham Lincoln.

When Chuck Kessler moved to Johnstown in 1958, he often would hear people mention a man's name.

"I finally asked, 'Who in the heck is Oliver Bigelow?' " he said.

The retired Johnstown-Monroe Local Schools superintendent, teacher and coach has become very familiar with the late Revolutionary War surgeon who left his mark in several states and founded the village of Johnstown 200 years ago.

Those who visit the cemetery on West Maple Street, which bears Bigelow's name, will see Kessler in period costume portraying the founding father as part of a "Living History" re-enactment at 2 p.m. today, Sunday, Oct. 27.

The event is the idea of Johnstown resident and Village Council member Sharon Hendren, who became interested in living history after watching other re-enactments in Licking County and Beekman, N.Y., from where many of Johnstown's ancestors came.

With this year marking Johnstown's bicentennial, Hendren decided to gather and document information about many of the people who are buried in Bigelow Cemetery and share their stories.

"I wanted to do something to honor those who came before us," Hendren said. "Their stories are very interesting, and the day should be very educational."

Hendren and the village's website provided some history on the village.

Johnstown is part of a 4,000-acre tract that President John Adams deeded to Revolutionary War soldier John Brown as payment for service. Following the war, the federal government awarded bounty lands to citizens and soldiers for their service.

In 1810, Brown sold the land to Dr. Bigelow for $2.50 per acre. Three years later, Bigelow laid out and incorporated the village and donated the streets, alleys and town square.

"He really led an interesting life, but it was a short life because he only lived to be 58," Kessler said. "He was really an ingenious person. Back then, there weren't any medical schools. He learned as an apprentice."

Bigelow died in 1817.

A number of others buried in Bigelow Cemetery are Revolutionary War veterans. Tom Hankins will play one of them, Peter Stevens.

A 15-year-old Civil War soldier, John Cummins, portrayed by Chris Speck, lied about his age to join the fight. He died of disease.

Village Manager Jim Lenner as Abraham Lincoln and Hendren as Mary Todd Lincoln will stand by the boy's grave.

Other re-enactors include Troy Hendren and Elizabeth Schwartz (Caleb and Rebecca Hill). The couple came to Johnstown from Beekman, N.Y., in a covered wagon with 12 children -- eight boys and four girls. Many of their ancestors still reside in the village. One-year-old Aliyah Grover will be dressed as little Rebecca Hill.

"One of the residents still owns his desk," Hendren said.

The event is free, but donations will be accepted for American Legion Post 254. Parking is available at the Johnstown Recreation Center and the Johnstown post office.