History comes alive at Mt. Zion historic cemetery walk

Published 12:00 am Saturday, October 8, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
CHINA GROVE — Saturday, the sun went down and the moon rose.
By the flicker of lamplight and candlelight, the figures of history came to life among the worn stones of Mount Zion United Church of Christ’s historic cemetery.
In tricorner hats and long, flowing dresses, with farm implements and quill pens, the ghosts of the past stood among the marble and granite tablets.
The living history exhibit, dubbed a “ghost walk,” was anything but scary.
“A lot of people thought it’s Halloween, and it’s not,” said Thelma Corriher, one of the organizers.
The event is a fundraiser for the church, which is currently constructing a new family life center.
The congregation and cemetery date from the late 1700s.
Those who lay at rest in the graveyard include first-generation immigrants from Germany, Revolutionary War soldiers and the patriots who supported them, founders of families and influential citizens.
When members realized how many current members and people living in the community are descended from them, they decided to bring history to life.
Corriher said the church’s history room contains original documents from centuries ago.
Organizers started about six weeks ago contacting them and preparing presentations and costumes.
Corriher said about 60 bought tickets for a homestyle dinner, followed by a walk by lamplight through the cemetery.
Groups stopped at the final resting places of those who were being portrayed by relatives and locals in period costumes.
Sarrah Harwood, age 8, joined her grandmother, Dianne Wallace, in portraying their ancestor, Sara Cress.
“Sarah was actually my great-great-great grandmother,” Wallace said.
“The interesting part was the number of Cresses who are descended from Germany, from the original family,” Wallace said.
Not all were from China Grove.
Congressman James Overstreet, a Republican returning home from the 17th Congress, was in a coach that stopped in China Grove on the way back to his home in South Carolina.
“They had the best cold water in the area,” said Jim Corriher, who portrayed Overstreet.
But, according to history, he drank too much cold water too quickly, and died of an apparent heart attack.
On the other hand, a present-day son of Rowan County came back home for the cemetery walk.
Kevin Sloop came back from his current home in Las Vegas to take part.
He’s a descendant of Conrad Sloop, the forebearer of the Sloops in our area.
Thelma said Conrad Sloop supported the American Revolution, providing land on which soldiers drilled.
“I was an ardent Lutheran, as was my wife,” Kevin Sloop said, in character as Conrad.
“We helped organize Lutheran Chapel Church. I represented the church at the founding meeting of N.C. Lutheran Synod in 1803,” he said.
Sloop said his interest in family history started when he was in the third grade.
He had watched a program on history and went to his grandmother for facts on his family.
“I asked her, ‘Do you know who the first Sloop was who came to America?’” he said.
“I can still see her smiling,” he said.
Though he said history has been one of his passions, Sloop said he never thought he’d get to portray his ancestor.
“I thought it was a really cool and super opportunity. It brings to life something that’s been abstract and on paper.”
Grady Hall, who portrayed his eight-times-great grandfather George Savits, also has a longstanding historical interest.
He’s one of the docents at Salisbury’s Hall House Museum.
Hall said he hoped visitors would take away an interest in their own families.
“If you aren’t grounded in where you come from, you will lose your footing as you move forward,” Hall said.
“You’ve got to know who your people are.”
For Roger and Jamie Corriher, who didn’t know as much about Roger’s family history, research brought some sobering facts to light.
Roger’s four-times-great grandfather was David Correll, whose journal they studied before portraying Correll and his wife Frannie.
“I didn’t even know his name before,” Roger said.
“He left a journal, and he talked about business. He was a farmer, he had 305 acres of land,” Roger said.
And David Correll was also a man of faith, who deeded 85 acres to Mount Zion UCC, then called the German Reformed Church.
But David Correll also owned slaves.
Corriher said learning this fact was “surreal,” and left him feeling some shame.
“He was a very religious man, and yet he talked about them as property … That was the most impactful thing to me, to know that my ancestors did that,” Corriher said.
Even so, he said the process helped him learn facts about his ancestors, and that he hoped the experience would spur others to do the same.
Meanwhile, Thelma Corriher said the church might consider doing another historic cemetery walk in the future, if there’s interest.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.