The First State Heritage Park will again offer its popular “Dark Dover” tour Oct. 11 and 18
Just who – or what – is lurking on and around The Green in Dover?
You may not want to know.
But if you do, and can stand hearing tales of gruesome murders, insane physicians and people meeting untimely ends through the duplicity of loved ones, the Dark Dover tour, sponsored by the First State Heritage Park, is right up your alley.
And you may find it's a very, very dark alley, indeed.
Although The Green today is a tree-shaded oasis in the center of Dover, in eras past it wore a different face. In colonial times, it functioned as a sometimes fetid open-air marketplace. Eventually stately Victorian homes rose around its borders, homes that reflected the supposed refined bearing of their owners.
But as participants in the Dark Dover tour will learn, things were not always as serene as they seemed. Throughout the guided tour, they will encounter, more or less in the flesh, historic denizens of Dover whose stories are tied to the neighborhood of The Green.
First off, Tom Pulmano, in character as what newspapers of the time called "a vagabond colored man" named Cooch Turner, will describe the case of a Dover physician with murder on his mind.
The case began with the apparent death of Dr. Isaac C. West in December 1872. The case piqued local interest when a body, sans head, hands and feet, was discovered inside West's office, which had been destroyed by an explosion and fire. A coroner's jury declared the horribly mutilated corpse was that of the doctor and the case seemed closed – that is until West himself turned up, apparently in perfect health.
What happened, and whether West actually got away with murder, will intrigue all.
Then again, there's the story about the ghost of Judge Samuel Chew, played by Michael Cinque, who was chief justice in colonial Delaware. Although a solid and thoughtful jurist, Chew often found himself the butt of jokes simply because of his last name.
Some of those who had mocked Chew during his lifetime soon found themselves haunted by the judge's ghost following his death in 1743; the poltergeist's appearances soon had all of Dover on edge, with people afraid to venture out after dark.
How Chew's restless spirit was calmed will be the focus of another tale.
Thirdly, visitors will encounter John Preston Dunning, whose philandering ways led his lover, Cordelia Botkin, to send poisoned candy to Dunning's estranged wife in Dover. Mary Elizabeth Dunning and her sister both died agonizing deaths in 1898.
Kevin Staniszewski portrays Dunning, who will try to play on the sympathies of Dark Dover participants and perhaps get a chance to clear his name.
Although he apparently had no part in the murders, Dunning carried the onus of Botkin's crimes until his death in 1908.
Other characters, including the infamous Betty Pollen, known as the "witch of Dover," also will turn up.
All in all, Dark Tour participants will learn a little more about the history of Dover, accompanied by a few chills sent up and down their respective spines, said Elaine Benchley, program director for First State Heritage Park.
"These are creepy stories, a combination of legends persisting over the years and true stories we know from newspapers and court records," she said. Although it's not a "boo and spook" tour, Dark Dover still might be a little intense for children under the age of eight or nine, she said.
As always, weather could be a factor in the tour, Benchley said.
"A couple of raindrops won't stop us, but if there's serious weather, we'll cancel," she said. Those who sign up will be notified by phone at least an hour in advance if the tour is called off, she said.