It was a quiet and dark Saturday night. Located a few miles in between Lexington and Richmond, White Hall stood out, illuminated in the darkness. A distant gunshot could be heard from time to time. The parking lot was full and visitors had gathered in the gift shop. This was the atmosphere of the Ghost Walk at White Hall titled, “Ghosts and Goodbyes.”
Ghosts of the family of Cassius Clay, a founder of the Republican Party and a Kentucky politician, are conjured by spirit guides every year around Halloween for over 20 years. These ghosts inhabit the estate and tell their individual stories to those who dare to visit.
Tourists would plan their vacations around the Ghost Walk, EKU students auditioned for the event each year and Ghost Walk director/writer, Jeffrey Boord-Dill organized it every year ever since the mid-90s.
On Saturday night, the ghosts of White Hall told their stories one last time.This year, Boord-Dill, an assistant professor for the EKU Department of English and Theatre, decided to bring the event to a close.
When visitors arrived at White Hall, they were presented with programs for the event. The programs appeared normal for a theatrical event — a list of the cast and crew—normal, except for a character named “Old Cassius M. Clay,” who was played by “himself.” Boord-Dill said the final performances contained surprises for seasoned fans of the Ghost Walk.
Spirit guides led guests through the house, set up each scene, provided character backgrounds and facts about the family. The final Ghost Walk was centered around goodbyes. For example, the first scene involved Clay’s first wife, Mary Jane Warfield Clay saying goodbye to the house after she leaves her husband.
Later, in a scene titled “Emily’s Tale,” which Boord-Dill cited as his favorite, Emily, a slave owned by the Clay family, said goodbye to her innocence after she was accused by Clay, of killing some of his children.
The final scene was the ultimate goodbye. Boord-Dill created a scene that he said he’d wanted to for some time. In the final scene, an old Cassius Clay said goodbye to the Ghost Walk. In a surprising twist, Boord-Dill himself stepped into the shoes of Clay.
The scene depicted a conversation between a near death Clay and his grandson, Green. The scene comically began with Clay accidentally shooting at his grandson. Eventually, Clay dismissed his grandson and addressed the audience directly. During this time, Clay urged the audience to tell their children the stories of the Clay family so that their stories would live on.
Clay ended his monologue by saying, “The next time you visit, me and my family won’t be here.” He then walked off into the darkness until he was no longer visible.
“I thought I’d have more trouble playing Cassius,” Boord-Dill said. “It’s been 20 years since I acted. I looked forward to doing it again to truly express Clay’s feelings. I’ve gotten to know him through reading his letters, and I hope to do his ideas and his memory justice.”
“Being able to do the scene with Jeffrey was such a privilege,” said Zach Morgan, a 21-year-old sophomore theatre major from Waco, and the actor who played Green Clay alongside
Boord-Dill. “Even though he was the director, he looked at me as a peer and we were able to make the scene better.”
After the final scene, visitors were led to refreshments where they were given the opportunity to ask questions about the event. This year’s Ghost Walk had a cast and crew of 26 members, most of whom were EKU students and faculty.
“The Ghost Walk brought in tens of thousands of dollars over the years,” said Kathleen White, White Hall’s park manager. “In the past, half of this money would go to EKU Theatre and the other to White Hall. This year it’s all going to White Hall.”
While fans of White Hall and the Clay family will no longer be able to hear their stories from their ghosts, White said several other events planned through the next year, including a Victorian Christmas beginning on December 2, where visitors are told about various Christmas customs made popular during the Victorian era. For more information, go to: http://parks.ky.gov/parks/historicsites/white-hall/
As for next fall, White said the Kentucky Department of Parks is looking into replacing the Ghost Walk with an “escape room” style game. An escape room is a game in which a group of individuals are locked in a room for a set amount of time and are tasked with escaping. White said that there are no finite details, but they would like to make the event appealing to both children and adults.