Long Beach Cemetery Tour: Graveside Theatre Brings Dead to Life

share this:
Nine graveside stories bring Long Beach history to life.

Nine graveside stories bring Long Beach history to life.

The Historical Society of Long Beach (HSLB) proudly presents its 19th annual historical tour of the two oldest cemeteries in the city. The Cemetery Tour is a unique daytime family event. Visitors are taken back in time to learn about Long Beach and its history through the voices of those “residing” in the cemeteries.

This year the tour will offer nine stories that represent the diversity of Long Beach. Stories include an early ship captain; two stories of men who served in WWI; a well-known newspaper man and his wife who left her mark on the city’s arts; a Japanese man educated by the Leland Stanfords; and a man motivated by modernization and his wife who was motivated by the “Old Fashioned Revival Hour” broadcast from Municipal Auditorium. 

There will also be new twists on two stories told in the past. The new information for one of the stories came from the City Manager Files in the HSLB archive. The story is about a Mexican family and restaurant that was wrongfully accused of being a nuisance. What the City Manager’s office found was a good family and a community filled with praise for their accomplishments. This document also demonstrates the integrity shown by the City Manager’s office in its investigation. This is a small example of the reason the city should value its history and preserve its mayoral and city council files.

Information for the other stories came from member-informed “grave sites” like Ancestry.com and Find-a-Grave. In one case, HSLB found answers to a question that has been asked many times about the Huffman story: “What happened to the little girl that survived?” People who like a happy ending will love this story.

Long Beach City Councilmember Al Austin will return as an actor for a few morning performances. He will perform at the WWI story which tells of an African American man who enlists in the Navy in WWI. The story contrasts the jobs given Black troops by various branches of the military.

Graveside stories are told by actors in costumes that are authentic to the era and help tell the person’s background. Was the person wealthy? Did he or she work in a job with a uniform? Was the person stylish or plain? The wonderfully unique and intricate costumes are created by award-winning costumer and designer Donna Fritsche of the Long Beach Playhouse.

The tour’s artistic director is Denis McCourt who has many years of study and experience in theater arts. His work as a director has been seen in productions at the Expo and “8 The Play” at the Scottish Rite Temple on Elm.

Visitors are free to map their own itinerary of grave presentations with a self-guided tour. Performance times are given in the tour program and at each grave stop. Or if they wish, visitors can take a guided tour. Guided tours leave on the hour from 9 to noon. To see all the presentations and exhibits takes at least two hours. The last presentation is given at 2:25 p.m. Snacks and drinks are available for purchase throughout the day.

Graveside tours take place at Municipal and Sunnyside Cemeteries, 1095 East Willow Street in Long Beach. Parking is available for free in Willow Springs Park lot on Orange, just above Willow.

Admission costs $25, $8 for students ages 8 to 18, and $15 more HSLB members. Tickets will be on sale the day of the event from 8:30 a.m. until noon, just inside the entrance to Sunnyside Cemetery or in Municipal, very near Willow Springs’ lot.

This event is family-friendly. It is a walking tour in a park-like setting, with some uneven ground. The day often starts cool and then turns warmer. For visitors’ comfort, we recommend comfortable walking shoes and sweaters and jackets that can be removed as the day warms up. There is some parking inside Sunnyside and plenty of parking in the surrounding neighborhood.

The Cemetery Tour is the signature fundraising event of the Historical Society of Long Beach, a non-profit organization. Those who would like to volunteer for or learn more about this event should visit www.hslb.org or call the HSLB at 562.424.2220.

Comments are closed.