Sep/Oct
2013

Voices from the Past

Written by Debi Neville
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Oakwood Cemetery Walk Honors "Fascinating Women" in Rochester's History

You are guaranteed to hear voices if you are walking among the gravestones of Oakwood Cemetery on Sunday, Sept. 22. Seven women, long dead, will come to life and tell their stories during the 16th Annual Oakwood Cemetery Walk hosted by the History Center of Olmsted County.

A Century and a Half of History

Every year, the History Center brings history alive with guided tours through Oakwood Cemetery that highlight notable—and sometimes notorious—people among the 19,000 buried there. Costumed actors stand near their character’s final resting spot telling their tales. Each dramatization lasts 5-6 minutes, then guides escort each group to the next portrayal.

“This year’s theme, ‘Fascinating Women,’ was chosen from a list of suggested topics by those attending last year,” explains Linda Willihnganz, chair of the event. “In all, I think there are 22 women highlighted.”

Among the women you will meet are Dr. Gertrude Booker Granger (1867-1928)—an 1897 University of Minnesota graduate, the first woman to join the Mayo Clinic team, assisting in areas of eye, ear, nose and throat and a full-time health officer for the city of Rochester—and Miss Marion L. Sloan (1846-1942) who lived in a log home on the site of Saint Marys Hospital, attended Rochester’s first school, became a teacher at 15 and received national recognition for her leadership in the women’s suffrage movement.

Speaking From the Grave

“It’s an honor to bring these women to life,” says Coralee Grebe, who will portray Dr. Granger and who has been part of the living history portrayals at Oakwood for years. “Rather than just reading facts from a book, interaction makes the past memorable.”

Karen Masbruch is also a repeat performer who will be portraying Miss Sloan this year.

“I am an actor at heart, and I love history, so I am drawn to the cemetery walk,” Masbruch says. “It’s a challenge to learn a lengthy monologue and stay in character through repeated presentations. I do additional research to add my own touch to the character.”

An interesting way to provide an afternoon’s entertainment, the Oakwood Cemetery Walk promises to entertain and enlighten those who step into the past. Guided tours for the Cemetery Walk begin at 1 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 22 (last tour begins at 3 p.m.). Tickets are available in advance at the History Center: adults, $6 ($7 at the gate); 18 and under, $2.

Other Women You Will Meet

Florence Hiller
(1897-1982) was quite the musician, entertaining audiences at the Lawler and Chateau Theaters during silent movie days. Kristin Wetencamp will present her story.

Miss Priscilla Wagoner
(1912-1959) ran the Wagoner Hotel, apartment buildings and other family businesses after her father's death. She will be portrayed by Janet Timmerman.

Miss Mary Whiting
(1869-1940) taught in the Rochester School System for 44 years. She later served as principal of the junior high school and assistant principal of the senior high. She will be portrayed by Mariah Mihm.

Miss Martha Dieter
(1824-1904) grew up in a log cabin north of Rochester. Sharon Krom will tell Martha's compelling and tragic story about life in Rochester during the Civil War.

Mary Ann Eastlick Nelson
(1850-1932) was a midwife for more than 100 babies and practiced herbal medicine. Her first husband was known as the "Boy Hero of Lake Shetek" during the Sioux Uprising of 1862. Debi Neville will present Mary's story.