Monday, September 26, 2016

Sunday afternoon in Potter's Field

Terrific performances, an appreciative audience and cooperative weather --- we had everything we could have hoped for late Sunday afternoon for the 13th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, this year "Stories from Potter's Field."

Mandi Hunter, performing as Gertrude Aughey Stanton, served as narrator for the program, providing background for this big and scenic area of the cemetery where more than 180 people --- mostly those who died in poverty or who were strangers among us --- have been buried since 1864, a majority in unmarked graves.

We played guessing games with weather forecasts all weekend, but the heavy rains predicted overnight Saturday-Sunday passed to the west and the showers predicted for Sunday did not materialize. So we were able to stage the event in Potter's Field rather than the cemetery shelter, our backup plan.

Mike Graves told the first of the Potter's Field stories, performing as William Hallensleben, who died in 1867 and was among the first to be buried here in what once was an isolated section of the cemetery.

We had good help in staging the event, sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. Commission Chair Alyse Hunter was chief organizer and recruiter; and commissioners Frank D. Myers, researcher and writer, and Dave Edwards and Jerry Taylor, sellers of tickets at the cemetery gates, movers of chairs and other equipment and general coordinators.

Miriam Hibbs portrayed Anna (Johnson) Sandahl, a native of Sweden and wife and mother in a family impoverished by circumstance, who was buried here during 1904. One of Miriam's ancestors, John Westling, had a small part in Anna's story.

Nick Hunter erected banners, helped load, unload and carry; and Karoline Dittmer used Lucas County Historical Society equipment to record the event.

Kylie Dittmer, appearing as veteran Chariton journalist Pearl Lewis, told the story of Eliza Ann Carter, born in slavery and matriarch of Chariton's black community, when she died during 1923 after a long life of more than 100 years.

When a gust of wind scattered programs across the cemetery, Trae Hall, one of the performers, and his granddad, Francis Snook, chased them down and figured out how to hold them in place.

Dennis Smith (left) and Steve Laing were just terrific as two unidentified strangers, tramps if you like, who were buried here in 1905 and 1909 respectively, one after falling off a train while riding the rails, the other a suicide.

I've probably forgotten some of the people who helped to make this year's event a success, but we're grateful to one and all.

Trae Hall, as Carl Jones, completed the performances by telling the story of a young man from southern Illinois who became critically ill while passing through Chariton during 1932 and was taken in and cared for in the community for more than six weeks before his death and burial in Potter's Field.

I'll be posting the scripts from the tour individually over the next few weeks.

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