BURRILLVILLE – It’s a summer day at Spring Lake in Burrillville and beach-goers are clad not in swimsuits or cut-off jeans, but rather dress shirts and slacks for the men and gowns for the ladies.
The black and white image, immortalizing that beach day long ago, is now on the cover of historian Betty Mencucci’s new book Burrillville Revisited, authored on behalf of the Burrillville Historical & Preservation Society.
On Sunday, June 27, Mencucci gathered a cast of actors, all locals, on stage at Assembly Theater in Harrisville for Burrillville Back in Time, a theatrical interactive experience. Then mill workers, the mill owner, musicians, and other costumed characters out of the past ventured off to various locales: behind the town annex, at the gazebo, at the First Universalist Church, at the pump house, and the mill pond, where the historic figures told their stories.
One historic character was the maligned Bathsheba (Thayer) Sherman, made infamous by the 2013 horror movie The Conjuring. On this sunny Sunday, Sherman is portrayed by local actor Casey Ryan, who says people destroyed Sherman’s grave and more than once.
Sherman was accused of “witchcraft, satanism, infanticide.” But, says Ryan, there’s “no evidence…no historical records” exist. “You wouldn’t want your ancestor’s grave desecrated.”
Jessie Smith, for whom the library is named, is portrayed by Daniel Echt. Smith was into horse trading. Echt says it’s interesting to learn about the history of the library and embody that [character] for an afternoon.
Echt is married, and his wife Emma Echt protrayed none other than Jessie Smith’s spouse Mary Smith.
Both agreed the event was a great deal of fun.
“I love when historical societies do these things,” Emma said.
Andrew Pariseau portrayed German musician Alexander Rihm. Parisaeu says he relishes the opportunity of being a musician stepping back in time and embodying someone from Burrillville’s past who taught music.
Mike Ryan portrayed Burrillville native Jaques Renard. It seems little is known of Renard, so Ryan “had to be creative to flesh him out,” a dramatic endeavor the actor found pleasing.
Mill owner William Tinkham, of the Steere and Tinkham Mill, established 1856, was portrayed by Ben Ryan.
“It was a lot of fun. I really enjoy dialoguing with people about Burrillville history,” the actor said.
Holly Dumaine-Picard, executive chair of Patrons of the Assembly, also had much fun portraying a historical villager.
“I was thrilled to work with the historical society. I was happy to learn about the people of Burrillville’s past and to meet the people and give tour of the space,” said Dumaine-Picard.
At the First Universalist Church, Victorian Abbie F. Sweet is portrayed by Mencucci.
Mencucci notes the church was built in a style of that era, then later altered to Colonial style by mill owner Austin T. Levy. During the depression of the 1930s, Levy planned to turn at least part of the town into a kind of Historic Williamsburg, Va. tourist attraction, which was a 1920s project of his associate John D. Rockefeller.
Other actors and their characters included Denice Mitchell as a descendant of the Remingnton Mansion residents; mill workers from 1865 as portrayed by Kenny Hopkins; and Kerry Hopkins as a 1927 worker.
Also participating, Eliza Hopkins rang the bell at First Universalist Church.
Mencucci has been president of BH & PS since 2002, and has nurtured her interest in town history since the 1990s. She and her spouse Carlo Mencucci have made award-winning films, including two about Burrillville.
The wife’s new book came about when she was approached by the publisher for a follow-up to her earlier works, Burrillville memories a year 2000 celebration and Burrilville 200 years of history.
The cast of characters telling their story to eager attendees was an idea suggested by Suzanne Buchanon of Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, and Mencucci mainly developed the characters, places, and stories, she says.
Proud husband Carlo mentions one of the photos in his wife’s new book.
It’s a sad-looking shot of a mud hut, where the couple explains Italian railway workers lived because their work got them dirty, and they weren’t wanted in the town.
That’s long past, and now Carlo records the characters of today’s event on video, creating a new and pleasant chapter in Burrillville history.