Among the hundreds of tombstones at two of the oldest cemeteries in Long Beach, 11 of the locals buried there will share their tales of crime, tragedy and scandal.
It will happen Saturday, Oct. 27, during the Historical Society of Long Beach’s (HSLB) 17th annual Historical Cemetery Tour at the Long Beach Municipal and Sunnyside cemeteries, 1095 Willow Ave., from 9am to 2:30pm.
Since 1995, the Historical Society has offered this event before Halloween to feature graveside presentations by professional and volunteer actors. In the presentations, actors are dressed according to the time period of the person they are representing, and they share a first-hand narrative of those at rest.
Each script is researched by a historian who uses HSLB archives, newspaper accounts and other primary resources.
The actors are dressed in costumes that are authentic to the era, down to the shoes and underwear, according to an HSLB press release. The costumes are made by Donna Fritsche, an award-winning costumer who is known for her work at the Long Beach Playhouse.
“What I do is read the story. I always get the script of the people who are going to be heard,” Fritsche said. “Some of the stories have a really particular time [period] with what they’re portraying. If the story doesn’t point to a period in their lives, then I look to see, what was their heyday?” Fritsche has worked at the Playhouse for 18 years, and this is her fifth year working with HSLB.
The actors are directed by Denis McCourt, artistic director and founder of the Public Theater of Long Beach.
This year, Long Beach Municipal Cemetery will feature William Willmore (Scott Ringwelski), one of the early would-be developers of real estate in the city and Dr. Price (Kevin Spaeth), a “hypnotic healer,” and his wife (Vanessa Rose Parker).
Sunnyside Cemetery will present: Ramona Linares (Linda Midgett), owner of one of the earliest local Mexican restaurants; Darthula Bouggess (Zadie Cannon), a co-founder of a scholarship that helped young African-Americans attend college; Edna (Liz Waite) and Tod Faulkner (Steve Dean), also remembered as Kid Mexico, a former boxing champion who ran several businesses in Signal Hill, including bingo parlors; Hisa Fuki Ishii (Jennifer Jung), the wife of a Stanford graduate with a story of “good fortune” that included death threats in a Japanese internment camp; James Butterfield (Will Proctor) and Roland Swaffield (Denis Kortheuer), who fought against unethical city entrapment and false accusations; and Spencer (David Narlock) and Lillie Decker, the first managers of Sunnyside Cemetery.
The tour will also feature a Dia de los Muertos exhibit where Theresa Marino will present her collection of artifacts related to the Mexican holiday.
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 will be given around 2pm.
The event is a family-friendly walking tour in a park-like setting, with some uneven ground. Walking shoes and sweaters or jackets that can be removed later are recommended. There is some parking available inside Sunnyside and plenty of parking in the surrounding neighborhood.
A free hot dog and hamburger lunch, provided by the Long Beach Police Officers Association, will be available from 11:30am to 1:30pm. Tickets will be sold on the day of the tour from 8:30am until noon at the entrance of Sunnyside Cemetery. Admission is $18 general admission, $12 for HSLB members, $5 for students 12 to 18, and free for children 11 and under. Only cash and checks will be accepted– no credit cards. (See page 1 of this week’s issue for a coupon to receive $3 off admission cost.)