The Cemetery Tour is a unique daytime family event, during which visitors are taken back in time to learn about Long Beach and its history through the voices of those “residing” in the cemeteries.
Scripts are written using the HSLB and other archives and newspaper accounts. Graveside stories are told by actors in costumes that are authentic to the era, down to their shoes and underwear. The wonderfully unique and intricate costumes are created by award-winning costumer and designer Donna Fritsche of the Long Beach Playhouse.
Actors are directed by Denis McCourt, whose work has been seen at the Expo as part of the Long Beach Shakespeare Company. He is also the founder of the Public Theater of Long Beach.
Several of this year’s stories focus on the city’s schools and educators, including two families who have had influence on the city’s schools: Betty and Bill Seal and Liz and Don Wallace.
Another new story this year will be Ethel and Charles Haynes. Ethel was an elementary-school teacher, and Charles was the first African-American member of the Long Beach Association of Realtors.
“With Denis’s direction, the stories transcend narratives and become compelling drama and ‘living history’ in a cemetery,” said Julie Bartolotto, executive director of the HSLB. “So convincing are the presentations that tour guests sometimes forget the presenter is contemporary. Those who attend get hooked, returning year after year.”
Tickets can only be purchased on the day of the event at Sunnyside Cemetery from 8:30am to noon. Cash, check and credit cards are accepted. The first performance starts at 9am, and they are presented continuously until 2:30pm. Prices are $20 general admission, $15 for HSLB members, and $5 for students 8 to 18 years old. Children 7 and under are admitted free of charge.
Visitors may 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. They may also take a guided tour– the first departs at 9am, with additional tours leaving on the hour until noon. There will be an 11am guided tour with a sign-language interpreter for the deaf. To see all the presentations and exhibits takes at least two hours.
Snacks and drinks are available for purchase throughout the day. Courtesy of the Long Beach Police Officers Association, a free hot dog and hamburger lunch is available from 11:30am to 1:30pm.
The tour is a family-friendly event in a park-like setting, with some uneven ground. The day often starts cool and then turns warmer. For visitors’ comfort, the HSLB recommends comfortable walking shoes and outerwear that can be removed as the day warms up. There is some parking inside Sunnyside and plenty of parking in the surrounding neighborhood.