On July 20 and 21, Tacoma Cemetery will come alive with ghostly guides for the fourth annual Living History Cemetery Tour. With so many of Tacoma’s foremothers and forefathers buried there, this oldest of Tacoma’s cemeteries provides the perfect opportunity to learn about our city’s history in a most novel and fascinating way.
Eight of the Northwest’s most accomplished living history re-enactors will lead guests on guided tours through the cemetery portraying Tacoma historical figures that each have quite colorful stories about their lives. In keeping with the tour’s theme – “Rails, Trails and Sails” – the actors, dressed in period clothing and assuming the personality of the deceased, will recount the life and times of those who helped make Tacoma great through the railroad, through the trails that served as the early roads to the West, and through the sails that brought Tacoma’s booming waterfront into fruition.
Storyteller, musician and historian Karen Haas, known for her portrayal of pioneering women like Thea Foss, Abby Williams Hill and Narcissa Whitman (to name a few), is one of the cemetery tour organizers along with the Fort Nisqually Time Travelers and Tacoma Historical Society. She portrays Elizabeth Drake, who was a Tacoma physician in the late 19th century when women were not exactly known to hold such positions. Drake also liked fast cars, horses and was a member of a local yacht club, which was also unheard of at the time. “She was quite a fun lady,” Haas said. It is these types of stories that Haas and the rest of the re-enactors bring to life during the cemetery tour as they stand next to the grave of the person they are portraying.
“Living history can connect with people and bring the past alive like other things can’t,” Haas said. “If we can pique someone’s interest to dig into the past more and learn about the people who founded Tacoma and made the community what it is today, then we’ve done it.”
Other portrayals include Tacoma shipping magnate H.F. Alexander (portrayed by Walter Neary); his wife Ruth Alexander (Jill Weatherford), an avid gardener who owned the property where Lakewold Gardens is today; lawyer, outdoorsman and early Tacoma Mountaineers member Asahel Denman (Patrick Haas); George Kandle (Joseph Govednik), namesake of Kandle Park who travelled the Oregon Trail as a baby; John Sprague (Ken Morgan), who was instrumental in bringing the railroad to Tacoma; and several others.
The common thread among all the historical figures being portrayed is their humanity – that they were people with ups and downs in their human lives like everyone else. This really comes out during living history tours of the caliber coming to Tacoma Cemetery, as the late, great pioneers of industry and society are brought out of dusty history books and made almost real again through the skills of the actors portraying them at graveside. Some stories are humorous, some are sad, some are poignant, some are full of adventure – and all tell of men and women who risked a lot to create the wonderful city of Tacoma.
“Rails, Trails and Sails” tours will start every 20 minutes from 6-7:40 p.m. July 20 and 5:40-7:40 p.m. on July 21. Advance tickets are $8 and available Tuesday through Saturday at the Tacoma Cemetery at 4801 South Tacoma Way. The cemetery ground is often uneven, so be sure to wear comfortable walking shoes.