The Historical Society of Long Beach will present its 16th annual historical tour of the two oldest cemeteries in the city on Saturday, Oct. 29. This year, graveside stories will commemorate several important centennial anniversaries: the Port, the first transcontinental flight, women’s voting rights in California, the Long Beach Day Nursery and the formation of the city’s water department.
The cemetery tour is a unique, engaging, educational and entertaining daytime family-friendly 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.
Amid the 20,000 tombstones and markers, tour participants stop in at 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 graveside 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 will soon be seen at Long Beach Playhouse. He is founder of the Public Theater of Long Beach.
With Fritsche’s costumes and McCourt’s 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 8:30am until noon– cash or check only.
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 9am, 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 2:30pm. Snacks and drinks are available for purchase throughout the day. A free hot dog and hamburger lunch is available from 11:30am until 1:30pm.
This event is family-friendly. It is a walking tour in a park-like setting, with some uneven ground. There is some parking space available inside Sunnyside and plenty of parking in the surrounding neighborhood.
Prices are $18 general admission, $12 for HSLB members, and $5 for students. Children 11 and under are free.