Washington Cemetery Tour to go virtual this year
WASHINGTON — The traditional living history shared for Halloween during a cemetery tour in town will take on a new life this year.
Gunn Historical Museum officials have announced the 13th annual Washington Cemetery Tour will not happen in-person due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Instead, organizers recorded the living history tour to post on the museum’s website at www.gunnmuseum.org and social media channels Oct. 30 at 6:30 p.m. The video will remain posted for future viewing.
“We’re excited,” said museum assistant Katharine MacLaren. “We’re happy we can get something to people. A lot of people are disappointed it’s not in person, but we’re hoping to bring that experience of walking into the cemetery to everyone.”
MacLaren, whose job was to prepare the script, was assisted by several volunteers who conducted much of the research.
The annual tour showcases the rich history of Washington using costumed actors to portray local figures with connections to the cemetery and town.
Stories from 100 years ago will be shared during this year’s event, including tales of Washington suffragists, bootleggers and those who faced the flu pandemic of 1918.
“This year we thought why not focus on issues that are contemporary, relevant topics because this is the 100th anniversary of the women’s suffrage movement and prohibition, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, like in 1918,” said museum curator Stephen Bartkus.
He said in doing research, volunteers found at least 10 individuals, all young, died of the flu in the fall of 1918. Nine characters and one gatekeeper are featured in this year’s production.
Stories will be shared through performances at grave sites. A few stories are shared near gravestones or elsewhere in the cemetery for the historical characters who aren’t buried in the Washington cemetery.
Brainstorming for how to present the tour this year in a new format began this summer, according to Doug Winkel, who with his wife, Martha, direct and produce the tour. They got involved three years ago.
“I suggested we videotape it,” Winkel said. “I couldn’t possibly see handling it via Zoom.”
Bartkus found videographers Philip Dutton and Ulrich Vilbois and the rehearsals began in the cemetery, which allowed for social distancing during recording.
“We always talked about filming (the tour) because the actors are so great,” Bartkus said. The coronavirus pandemic made that become a reality. “... It’s just another way to share the history of Washington. We were going to do it this way or not have it.”
Winkel said he was “amazed” the first time he was involved in the tour, which attracts hundreds of visitors each year. The event drew nearly 400 people, and Bartkus said last year was the biggest crowd to date.