Corbin H. Crable
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An actor protrays former-Gardner Dr. A.S. Reece during a cemetery walk last year. During his lifetime, Reece opened a hospital in Gardner. He died in 1986. This year, Gardner Historical Museum’s Cemetery Walk will take place in the St. Columbia Cemetery. Submitted photo

Although they’ll be strolling through a cemetery, those who attend next weekend’s Cemetery Walk will get to see history come alive.
The fourth annual walk, sponsored by the Gardner Museum and Historical Society, will take place Thursday, Sept. 16 and Saturday, Sept. 18 at the St. Columbia Cemetery, located at Moonlight and 159th Street. Thursday’s walk will begin at 6:30 p.m., while Saturday’s walk will start at 6 p.m. Admission cost is $5 for adults and $3 for children and teens. Children under the age of 5 will be admitted free of charge. Tickets are available at the museum, 204 W. Main St., or at the cemetery on either of the nights the walks will take place.
A tour guide decked out in period dress will lead attendees through the cemetery, where some of Gardner’s most well-known individuals and families are buried. Along the way, attendees will view the grave sites of these historic figures, and actors dressed as the person buried at that spot will speak about their lives.
“They will tell that person’s story themselves while in character,” said Nancee
Rankin, one of the organizers of the walk and a member of the museum and historical society. “I think we have a total of 10 or 12 different characters.”
Tours will depart from the cemetery entrance every 15 minutes, with three tours taking place each evening.
Rankin said the walk has been held at the Gardner Cemetery for the past three years, and that event organizers decided to move this year’s walk to St. Columbia Cemetery to better pay tribute to the residents buried there.
“We wanted to make sure we included the cemetery because a lot of families are buried out there,” she noted, adding that the walk is held during the third week of September every year.
Rankin said that the process in finding actors – referred to as ‘re-enactors’ in this event – was relatively easy. The museum and historical society sought out people with a love of both history and storytelling.
“I mostly look for someone who’s interested in history, someone who’s willing to become that character and have some fun with it, because there are a lot of interesting stories there,” she said. “We have a committee that researches the basic facts about (the historical figures’) lives, but they also pull out some fun stories about the person or the families, and that helps explain how Gardner was settled.”
Rankin said she’s had no shortage of volunteers willing to be involved.
“People really like to see others dressed up and become that character,” she said. “I have people year after year who want to do it.”
The event’s organizers ask that those who attend behave respectfully toward the venue and those involved in the walk.
Rankin stressed that the event is not intended to be Halloween-themed, nor is it intended to be spooky – so those looking for a good scare will be disappointed. Those looking to learn about the history of Gardner and the men and women who settled it, however, will find the evening both entertaining and informative.
“I know a lot of cemetery walk groups do spooky themes, but that’s what haunted houses are for,” Rankin said. “This is strictly historic. Our goal is to educate the community and have fun doing it.”
For more information or to purchase tickets, call the Gardner Museum and Historical Society at 856-4447.