Monday, September 21, 2015

A Stanton Vault anthology

Everything was aligned just right late Sunday afternoon for the annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour. The day was perfect weatherwise, the performers outstanding and the audience appreciative. Who could have asked for more?

Since we were channeling the shades of folks once interred in the long-demolished Stanton Vault, now buried where it once stood, it seemed appropriate to channel the shade of renowned American poet Edgar Lee Masters, too.

His Spoon River Anthology, a collection of short free-form poems that celebrate through their epitaphs the lives of people buried in the cemetery of his fictional Illinois hometown, usually is dramatized by actors seated near depictions of their characters' tombstones. So we aligned our performers in rocking chairs above the once-upon-a-time location of the gated entrance to the mausoleum, demolished in 1959.

Andy Fuhs led off as John W. Perry, the first person interred --- during 1887 --- in the vault.

He was followed by Gayle Bortz, portraying Jessie Mallory Thayer O'Neal, whose stillborn daughter, Louise, rests among the 16 people re-interred in the vault's footprint after its demolition.

Trae Hall was next as the venerable Andrew Swan, a prominent Chariton-area farmer and immigrant from Sweden, whose remains were placed in the vault just after the turn of the 20th century.

Patti Bisgard, as Minnie Day Kirk, among the hundreds of young Lucas Countyans claimed by tuberculosis during the 19th and early 20th century, was the final performer of the day.

I ended up portraying Dr. James E. Stanton because of a death in the family of one of our scheduled performers --- and that seemed to work out OK.

After the performance, everyone wandered over to the shelter house for refreshments and a time to visit. It was just a great way to spend the late afternoon.

The tour is sponsored and organized by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission and facilitated by all sorts of people, including financial sponsors. Thanks to our actors, to Joe Gaa and others from the city staff who wrangled chairs and made sure the cemetery looked its best, Caroline Dittmer, whose video will be a permanent record of the event, and many others.

I'll post the scripts here gradually over the next couple of weeks so that those unable to attend will be able to learn more about the Chariton Cemetery's rich history. too.

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