Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Bringing a Cemetery to Life

South King County Genealogical Society members Hilda Meryhew, Linda Van Nest and Karen Bouton at the Saar Pioneer Cemetery, photo courtesy of Sylva Coppock

by Karen Bouton

Last July I attended a Living History tour at the Tacoma Cemetery. Nine different actors dressed in period costumes portrayed a ‘character’ from Tacoma’s history. Each actor stood next to the character’s headstone and spoke alone about that person. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these brief stories and learned a lot about my neighboring city. I had heard of this type of event being performed at cemeteries throughout our country and was glad I finally had a chance to witness one. While driving home, I thought, we need to tell the story of the residents of Saar Pioneer Cemetery!

After putting out the word about this idea, the Saar Cemetery Living History Committee was formed in October of 2009. Sylva Coppock, Hilda Meryhew, Charlene Shaw, Linda Stephens, Linda Van Nest, and I have been meeting each month since then to plan this event.

First we obtained a Site Specific grant with 4Culture. This brought about the hiring of Book-It Theatre and Living Voices. Biographical and genealogical research of the cemetery residents was provided to Rachel Atkins at Living Voices. She was able to take that massive amount of information and turn it into a script for six of the cemetery residents. It will be an interactive conversation between the actors about each character. A grant from 4Culture Heritage will provide funds for advertising, programs, refreshments at the event, floral arrangements at six gravesites, and DVD’s.

The performance will begin with Mary Anderson, born in Pennsylvania, a midwife, a member of the Salvation Army, and passing away in the White River Valley area at age 80. Second will be a Civil War veteran, Elias Clark, who passed away in 1916 at the Washington Veterans’ Home. He fought with the 74th Illinois Infantry and then with Company D, 20th Michigan Infantry. Next will be Stephen P. Willis. Willis Street in Kent is named in his honor. He opened a school in 1869 with his children among the first to attend classes. Two great-nieces of Mr. Willis, Lucy and Martha Shinn, will have the opportunity share their short lives. Fourth on the tour will be James Iddings, another Civil War Veteran. He fought for both the South and then for the North. Fifth, Mighill Maddocks will tell of his adventures arriving in Seattle around 1861. Have you ever heard of Maddocksville? Lastly, Margaret Saar will tell her story. She was the first burial in the cemetery. Her headstone was large and ornate and unfortunately, is now MISSING.

The performances will take place July 17 and 18. Reservation details are located on the South King County Genealogy Society’s website at

For her work as the Saar Cemetery Project Coordinator, Karen Bouton received the 2007 Washington State Genealogical Society award and King County's John D. Spellman Historic Preservation Award in 2008.

1 comment:

  1. Just watched the dress rehersal at the Kent Museum this evening. It was very good and will be even better watching it at the cemetery this weekend.