Colonial Lantern Tours of Plymouth

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Pilgrims and poltergeists, Rochester woman's tours highlight history

By Matthew Bernat | Oct 09, 2013

Lantern Tours

Courtesy of: Diane Finn Diane Finn (left), of Rochester, leads a historical tour in Plymouth. She developed the history tour, and the ghosts and legends tour, more than 30 years ago

Rochester — On quiet nights, strange things can sometimes be heard at Burial Hill in Plymouth.

Ghostly visions. Sobs. A phantom passes, or maybe that was just the wind?

Diane Finn, of Rochester, hopes these disturbances will attract tourists searching for a scare this October.

A retired teacher, Finn has run Colonial Lantern Tours to teach students and adults about the history of Plymouth and the Pilgrims for 30 years.

With almost 400 years of history, there is no shortage of ghastly tales to highlight.

This month, a new tour called the “Burial Hill Spooktacular” will focus on three characters from Plymouth’s past: Mother Crewe, Witch Hazel, and Aunt Rachel. The stories surrounding the woman are legend. But there’s just enough historical fact to lend the tales credibility.

Finn started the Colonial Lantern Tours after serving as the teacher liaison for Plimouth Plantation.

As a liaison, she developed tours and lessons for the school groups. The student tours proved popular: “And eventually people in town asked me why aren’t there tours for grown-ups,” Finn said.

She launched Colonial Lantern Tours with help from her husband, who is a marketing specialist. Today, her daughter Erin Zell, of Marion, designs promotional materials; her son Tom gives historical tours in a similar vein in Boston.

Finn taught mostly third and fourth grade students for 33 years, while also running the business. She moved to the area from Fitchburg, and watched Plymouth grow from a community of 15,000 to one with 56,000 residents during her career.

While teaching, she strived to give students a sense of history, which was her minor in college.

“I think that connecting kids with history is what education should be all about,” she said. “As a teacher, I did funky things like when we studied India, we had an Indian wedding. And of course, we dressed up as the Pilgrims around Thanksgiving.”

For the school tours, she started the practice of having students learn the material, then teach their classmates along the way. That change invested the kids in the lessons, she said.

The business caters to students and adults. Two tours are held every night from April through November. The first focuses on local history and the second is all about ghosts and legends.

Burial Hill in Plymouth is the final resting place of about 60 sailors whose ship, the General Arnold, ran aground in Plymouth Bay.

The ship left Boston on Christmas Eve in 1778. A fierce storm developed; freezing wind and rain pummeled the sailors who were trapped for days. Most died during the ordeal. Generally, the ghost tour is more popular, Finn said.

That may be due in part to some paranormal encounters.

On one tour, a guide was about to tell a story when something fell from the sky and knocked her backwards.

“She though it was an owl or possibly a bat,” Finn said. “A man standing next to her started to cry and said: ‘I didn’t see it, but it felt like an ice knife passing through me.’”

Both the guide and the man started to cry.

“Certain people just love the ghost stories and there are others who don’t want to hear that at all. All they want is the history,” Finn said.

And Finn is always looking for more stories to tell. Last summer, she researched colonial court records and created a pub-crawl called “The Naughty Pilgrims.”

People walked to three different pubs while learning about some less-then-pious stories gleaned from the historical record. Finn says she’s not a natural storyteller, but someone who doesn’t want to see the past forgotten.

“I see myself as an educator that loves looking at innovative ways to bring about stories and history,” she said. The Burial Hill Spooktacular will be held Oct. 18, 19, 25, and 26.

For more information or to make reservations, Call 617-982-8134 or 774-320-5132 or visit www.lanterntours.com.