October 28, 2004 The Times Herald - Philadelphia, PA A tour to chill you down to the bone By M. English Up for a bit of storytelling that begins at the end and leaves its start to imagination? Hard to fathom what Major General Winfield Scott Hancock and fellow residents of historic Montgomery Cemetery might make of the "Unearthly Walking Tour Into the Past: Grave Tales" scheduled to unfold in their midst Saturday. On the other hand, the esteemed Civil War officer and company might just welcome a little excitement, death being so final and all. Here's the deal. You show up at the West Norriton graveyard at the foot of Hartranft street, off Main, and hand over $5 ($3 if you're a student or a senior) to the historically savvy folks from the Hancock Society. In return, they'll guide you through the old boneyard, all the while dissecting the legends, myths and facts behind tombstone symbolism and Victorian mourning customs. For example, did you know that headstones were thought to help keep bodies underground? That funeral flowers were meant to disguise the odor of decaying bodies laid out for at-home viewings in the era that preceded undertakers and embalming? Or that jewelry fashioned from dead relatives' hair was accepted adornment for the living? Tours leave the front of Montgomery Cemetery at noon and 5:30 p.m. Both cover the same historical data. But the noon trek is "strictly historical" whereas the 5:30 is also likely to attract a spectral image or two as dusk turns to nightfall. In fact, warns Hancock Society President Karin Stocking, folks on the later tour should count on seeing Ada Elizabeth Hancock, the general's daughter...probably twice. For that matter, Karin predicts they'll also witness "one very bloody incident" involving a certain Col. Shaw and the terrible wound he suffered during the Civil War's infamous Battle of Cold Harbor. But more about that Saturday. Saturday's cemetery outings have become a Halloween tradition under the watchful eyes of Karin and husband Bruce Stocking, a Valley Forge National Historical Park ranger who assumes the guise of Victorian undertaker for Hancock Society's yearly date with the dead. Proceeds go toward the organization's continuing efforts to restore the fencing around General Hancock's mausoleum, a project society members call "Crowning Glory." Karin Stocking and her father, Paul Koons, began cleaning and restoring the site, also the final resting place of Ada Elizabeth Hancock, 11 years ago. As explained in Hancock Society records, the duo spearheaded formation of the Hancock Restoration and Maintenance Committee, a sub-committee of Montgomery County Historical Society which owns the 158-year-old cemetery. Koons and Bruce Stocking administer the mausoleum's year-round maintenance. But come Halloween, the latter is all Victorian gravity. And although the Stockings are adamant about keeping their tour from morphing into yet another boo fest, they're no slouches when it comes to discussing stuff like the Victorian belief in vampires, spirits and assorted ephemeral sightings. "We don't want people to look at this as a cemetery but as a library...the idea that with every stone, there's a story to be told...about an individual or a family," explains Karin, who spends her days working in Human Resources at RecordTrak in King of Prussia. "Some of these stories are true, some are folklore, but they're all part of American history, and they're a fascinating way to look back at our past. We get pressure every year to make this gory, but we avoid that kind of thing to maintain the dignity of the cemetery." Saturday's "Grave Tales" will also feature a display of Victorian funeral antiques, among them, glass bottles that once held embalming fluid, funeral-related stationery and personal mourning accoutrements. "The thing about the Victorians...they grieved for a very long time, typically at least a year," Karin says. "They wrapped themselves in this grief. Secluded themselves with it. "Today, when somebody close dies, we say, 'Go see a movie, and you'll get over it.' The Victorians immersed themselves in their grief. Then, at the end of the year, they were ready to get on with their lives. "They also believed strongly in an afterlife. They'd say we dwell too much on this thing called our body instead of what's inside - our spirit. They believed the body is only a shell, the mechanism necessary to express the spirit." Hot cider, Victorian funeral cakes and Halloween cupcakes will be available for purchase during both of Saturday's tours. Montgomery Cemetery T-shirts as well as gravestone castings and related souvenirs by The Gravestone Girls will also be on sale. The Stockings - also known for the seasonal display they install outside their West Norriton home (Marshall street between Whitehall road and Burnside avenue) every Halloween - encourage visitors to dress warmly and bring flashlights. Guides will be available to lead visitors back to the cemetery's entrance should they need to exit their tour early. Karin describes "bad weather arrangements" this way: "If it rains like crazy, we will cancel without a rain date." Additional information is available at 610-630-0912 or www.wshancocksociety.org.