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Civil War Ballet to Help Save Boalsburg's Vandalized Graves

by on June 14, 2014 3:55 PM

The Civil War, the art of ballet and vandalism may sound like a strange combination – but they’ll come together in Boalsburg on Sunday evening.

The Central Pennsylvania Dance Workshop, a nonprofit studio based in State College, will preform a Civil War ballet at the Boal Mansion at 6 p.m. to raise money for the Boalsburg cemetery following May’s acts of vandalism.

Daria Oller, a dance instructor with the workshop, says the company was already learning the Amelie Hunter’s ballet “The Vacant Chair” when the vandalism occurred, leaving over 50 gravestones toppled or damaged. 

Given Boalsburg’s rich military tradition and the many veterans buried in the vandalized cemetery, the workshop realized how relevant the themes of their civil war ballet were for the occasion. Though the dancers initially learned the ballet for a performance in New Jersey on Friday evening, Oller says they put together Sunday’s event in solidarity with the community.

“It’s a little bit more personal, being in such a small community where everybody knows everybody,” Oller says. “To know how passionate people in Boalsburg are in celebrating veterans, it’s upsetting to think that someone could so easily destroy their graves.”

Jeff Selvage, secretary and board member for the Boalsburg Cemetery Association,  says early estimates of the damage ranged around $100,000, though many toppled gravestones were returned to their places by the village’s annual Memorial Day festivities. Other grave markers, some of which date back to the nineteenth century, require repairs that would be costly due the stones’ age and artistry.

Due to the stipulations of their insurance policy, Selvage says they were not covered for these damages. Though the association’s bylaws state that a gravestone’s upkeep is the responsibility of the owner's relatives, they were willing “to work with families and help cover some expense of [replacing gravestones].”

In the weeks since the May 4 vandalism, Selvage has seen an “overwhelming” outpouring of support from the community. Mayes Memorials in Lemont assisted in righting the felled stones before Memorial Day and citizen fundraisers raised $11 thousand for the cemetery association, he says.

Sunday’s performance of “The Vacant Chair” will retell the story of the Civil War from the southern perspective of plantation women and slaves over eight dances, offering a different take than the Northern male perspective that is usually considered, Oller says.

In addition to the ballet, the event will feature performances by banjo player Jim Kerhin and singer Ashley Moore. Oller says that the event doesn’t have a monetary goal, and that bringing the community together is also an important aspect of the night.

“It’s been really great, even though it’s a sad event, to see how quickly people can come together,” Oller says. “It’s amazing to see how willing people are to help for a good cause like this.”


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Michael Martin Garrett is a reporter and editor for who covers local government, the courts, the arts and writes the Keeping the Faith column. He's a Penn State alumnus, a published poet and the bassist in a local indie rock band.
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