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History comes to life at WCHS Cemetery Walk Oct. 12, 13, 14 (10/07/2012)
By Emily Buss

     Actors portray real-life characters during last year's 12th annual Voices From the Past: Woodlawn Cemetery Discovery Walk.
If you delight in news of scandals, revel in mysterious murders, and are drawn to the troublemakers of the old days, this year’s "Voices From the Past: Woodlawn Cemetery Discovery Walk" will satiate your appetite for skullduggery.

For the past several years, the Winona County Historical Society has chosen a theme for the cemetery walk, and a question regarding the scoundrels in Winona's history got event chair Kathy Turner thinking.

“We’ve done the medical theme, and celebrated the 150 years of collegiate education in Winona, but we’ve never done the scandals. It all just snowballed from there,” Turner said.

The idea, turned over to Winona County History Center archivist Walt Bennick, took on a life of its own, Turner said. Bennick took a journey through the 1800s and early 1900s that included cheating spouses, secret stashes of money, and property rights squabbles.

“There are 27,000 people interred in Woodlawn Cemetery. There are lavish mausoleums for those who could afford them and there are lovely, lovely monuments,” Turner said. “These are farmers, merchants—important people and everyday people. And some of them happened to get into trouble.”

Around the turn of the 19th century, people flooded into Winona in search of a new life. Many had little or no money or possessions, and they had to rely on basic survival instincts. Law enforcement was basically a sheriff with a gun.

“The people living in Winona during that era had all kinds of new things to take on,” Turner said. “They were living in a town that was on the edge of the frontier and the times were difficult.”

Turner said the cemetery walk will not portray these so-called scoundrels and scandalous people as bad, but simply portray the good and the not-so-good, “just like we are.”

As election season grows closer, Turner highlighted one particular story in which an election was declared invalid after the community discovered lawsuits involving bribes for votes had been filed by incumbent Fire Chief Wise Norton, Mayor Robert J. Tearse, and mayoral candidate Mat Wagner against each other.

 “This is such a fun way to learn about the history of the people that have lived their lives in Winona,” Turner said. “I think people will walk away with a better understanding of who these people were, where they came from, and what happened to them. Even though they may not be our personal ancestors, they are our city’s ancestors.”

The Woodlawn Cemetery Discovery Walk takes place October 13 and 14 from noon to 3 p.m. Admission is $7 for adults, $5 for students 13 and older, and $3 for those 12 and younger, and can be paid at the gate.

The cemetery has patches of brick road and steep hills. For those who don’t feel comfortable maneuvering the terrain, the Trester Trolley will be available at no extra cost. Those wishing to take the trolley must reserve a spot by calling the Winona County Historical Society at 454-2723.

Additionally, the cemetery walk has teamed up again with Theatre du Mississippi to offer a corresponding theater production, “Fiends, Schemes, and Broken Dreams.” Directed by David Coral, member of the Great River Shakespeare Festival acting company, the play takes viewers on a journey through even more stories of thieves and scammers of the 1800s.

The play will be performed October 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m., and October 14 at 3:30 p.m. at the Historic Masonic Theater. Tickets are available at the History Center in advance for $15, or $18 at the door, and $7 for students.

For more information about the cemetery walk or the play, visit the Winona County Historical Society’s website. www.winonahistory.org 


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