She stepped out into the dark and thrust her beaming, skull-shaped lantern into the air. The light spilled onto her silhouette which was clothed in swishing black fabrics and dark velvets that complemented the eeriness of her stories. Her trademark dark, straight locks framed her face as she gave instructions to follow closely on the tour. Quickly, her boots turned and clicked away out of the lobby of the hotel and up Market street, a group of people trailed behind listening, rapt, as she led them through the haunted streets of Parkersburg.
“The aficionado of all ghoulish things in the MOV. Her storytelling abilities were unparalleled. I went on the Haunted Parkersburg tours every year since I was a teenager. Even when I lived away, I would come home around Halloween and make it a point to go. The way that she intertwined folklore and local history was captivating. I learned something new every time, including this past year, nearly two decades later,” Parkersburg resident Caci Bailey said.
So, in the perfect tribute to Susan Sheppard’s brilliant life, the Mid-Ohio Valley gathered together for a final time to make the walk to Riverview Cemetery. They honored her by dressing in the same swishing, gauzy fabrics that were her style, making art, and walking a route with which she was all too familiar.
“Susan was, and still is, a well-respected icon in the Mid-Ohio Valley. The celebration turnout showed how many lives she had touched throughout the years and how she used her gifts to help others,” said Rebecca Rhodes, Parkersburg resident and attendee. “It’s fitting Susan be honored with a New Orlean’s parade. She believed in life and spirit after death. The celebration was confirmation that her legacy will live on and she will continue to impact the lives of the community.”
The magic she packed into her time is a gift to me, to everyone who loved her, and to her beloved West Virginia. I will forever be proud to be her daughter.Scarlet Sheppard
The parade was meant to celebrate a life well lived, and while mourning occurred, Susan’s life and her patronage of the arts was the forefront of the event. Rhodes described the event and its participants as jubilant as they walked through downtown. Individuals were taking part in the sacred art of smudging, some wore Day of the Dead sugar skull masks and traditional Hispanic music was playing with the accompaniment of drums and tambourines.
“My mother’s life was not just mine to participate in: it was hers to live. And, wow, did she! This moment feels tragic. But, as my mom would tell you, the real tragedy would be living one hundred years as an inauthentic version of ourselves. The magic she packed into her time is a gift to me, to everyone who loved her, and to her beloved West Virginia. I will forever be proud to be her daughter,” Scarlet Sheppard, Susan’s daughter, said.
Susan’s legacy is carried on through her daughter, who not only bears a striking resemblance to Susan, but shares her love of arts, laughter, and making space for people who might not fit in anywhere else.
“Of all the moms I could have gotten, how lucky I feel to have gotten mine. Almost thirty years spent with her does not seem like nearly enough. Not enough stories, not enough wild laughter, not enough kisses. But I doubt anyone feels they get enough time with their mothers,” Scarlet said.
Susan’s love of all things different and “weird” not only extended into the paranormal, but for people as well. Dozens of Facebook tributes to her described her as someone who made space for those who felt that they had space nowhere else – some who encouraged others to live their lives exactly as they felt called to do.
Susan gave the wanderers, the artists, the poets, the sensitives and weirdos one last space to remind them, they too are magical.Andi Roberts
“Honestly, the day was a bit surreal. It was hard to believe that Susan wasn’t there because her spirit there was just so very strong. We all move in these communities that intersect and intertwine the different parts of our lives and it was fascinating to see so many different people gather – to see how once again, Susan gave the wanderers, the artists, the poets, the sensitives and weirdos one last space to remind them, they too are magical,” local photographer Andi Roberts said. “Susan created a community for people who felt like they did not belong anywhere else.”
Although the parade was joyful and vibrant, the gravity of the situation was not lost on participants who were simultaneously grieving while using the processional as a form of catharsis.
“It was sad seeing her family and close loved ones, still moving in disbelief or fueled by the energy that the death of a loved one temporarily brings. But it was also moving to see Susan be honored in a way that was so fitting. I thought to myself and heard over and over again, ‘She would have loved this,’” Roberts said. “I don’t think I would be too far off base if I suggested that to the people who loved her for the icon she was, the parade was the only proper way to send off their Queen,” Roberts said.
For Susan’s family, the symbolism of the parade was a gift to the community who loved her so. Not only did they choose to share a private moment of grief, but they did it in a way that offered comfort and calmness to many who were feeling lost.
“It’s not lost on me how incredibly generous they were to share their grief and mourning with the larger community. I Imagine, for Scarlet, and those in her inner personal circle that Sunday’s event was about authenticity and the need to truly honor who she was not just in their hearts, but in the heart of the community” Roberts said.
Led by Scarlet, who affixed a Mothman patch on her denim jacket as a tribute to her mom, the parade moved up Market Street. Roberts chose to photograph the crowd from an angle that showed the true size of the procession.
“Seeing the group snake through Susan’s old stomping grounds, but with Scarlet at the helm brought up a string of emotions that ranged from grief to pride. Susan was always so proud of Scarlet and Sunday would have been no different,” Roberts said.
Once the group made their way to the cemetery, the group paid their final respects to a woman who had given so much. Wreaths, flowers, art and more piled beneath her photo as Scarlet hung her signature black top hat on the fence. While Susan may be gone, her memory, spirit and stories will live on in all who walked for her that day.