The Historical Society of Long Beach Presents 17th Annual Historical Cemetery Tour, October 27

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Photo by Swoop

Photo by Swoop

The HSLB proudly presents its 17th annual historical tour of the two oldest cemeteries in the city. The Cemetery Tour is a unique, engaging, educational and entertaining daytime family event.  Visitors will be taken back in time to learn about those whose names are etched in stone – and in some cases, in the streets, parks and neighborhoods that bear their names.

Amidst the 20,000 tombstones and markers, tour participants stop in at ten selected graves to hear first hand narratives of those at rest. Many tell tales of crime, tragedy and scandal which followed them all the way to the grave. In addition to learning about the person’s life, glimpses of early customs, attitudes and culture provide insights into bygone eras. The stories are the mosaic that is the city’s history. This year’s tour includes 11 graveside presentations, one more than in recent years.

Every script is researched by a historian using the HSLB archives, newspaper accounts and primary resources. Graveside stories are told by actors in costumes that are authentic to the era, down to the shoes and underwear. The wonderfully unique and intricate costumes are created by award-winning costumer and designer Donna Fritsche of the Long Beach Playhouse.

The grave side actors bring the characters to life – at least for the day – as they weave the magic of story well-told. Actors are directed by Denis McCourt, whose work has been seen at the Expo as part of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company and is founder of the Public Theater of Long Beach.

With Donna’s costumes and Denis’ direction, the stories transcend narratives and become compelling “living history.” So convincing are the presentations that tour guests often forget that the presenter is contemporary, seeking information about their bygone period. Most who attend are hooked, returning year after year.

Tickets can only be purchased on the day of the event at Sunnyside Cemetery (1095 Willow Ave.) from 8:30 until 12 noon. Cash and check only, no credit cards.

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 – the first departs at 9 a.m., with additional tours leaving on the hour until noon. To see all the presentations and exhibits takes between two and three hours. The last presentation is given at 2:30 p.m. Snacks and drinks are available for purchase throughout the day.

A free hot dog and hamburger lunch is available from 11:30 until 1:30.  Courtesy of the Long Beach Police Officers Association.  Other event sponsors include: the Long Beach Area Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Long Beach Water Department.

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.

Prices are:
General admission – $18
HSLB members – $12
Students 12-18 – $5
Children 11 and under are free

New member special: Join the HSLB at the Cemetery and receive two free tickets to the tour.

Look for discount coupons during the month of October in local papers.

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.

This Year’s Stories from the Grave

In Municipal:
William Willmore envisioned a city by the sea, but his vision was premature – he got into the real estate market too early and out to soon, still his name is remembered for the colony that never was.

Dr. William Price was a hypnotic healer raised in the southern tradition of the time, a blend of folk magic and Christianity – that left a lot of room for interpretation. Among his specialties was the “holy kiss” and shady real estate deals.

Dia de los Muertos is a Mexican tradition that translates as the Day of the Dead. The exhibit features items collected across many years; guests will be delighted by the artifacts as well as the knowledgeable collector who will share her expertise on the subject.

In Sunnyside:
Darthula Bouggess came to Long Beach just in time for the Great Depression of 1929 with a degree from the University of Kansas. She completed a study entitled “The Negro in Long Beach” as part of the New Deal and co-founded a scholarship to help African American youth attend college.

Ramona Linares came to Long Beach to escape the Mexican Revolution. Her husband died suddenly leaving her to raise eight children. Fortunately her skills in the kitchen let her open one of the city’s first and enduringly popular Mexican restaurants which operated for the next 55 years.

Kid Mexico was the kind of person that was a scoundrel or a great man, depending on whom you asked. His bingo parlors did great business until Signal Hill decided to change its image and outlawed gambling.

Spencer and Lillie Decker were the first managers of Sunnyside Cemetery. During their tenure they encountered grave robbers, oil men and the growth of the city. Although the Decker family had passed on by the time the Dempsey scandal hit, they will share the details of the man who nearly bankrupted the cemetery.

Hisa Fuji Ishii was the daughter of a picture bride. She tells of the “good fortune” she and her husband shared which included death threats in a Japanese internment camp.

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