by ALEXANDRA RETTER
A man who was formerly enslaved and came to Winona after serving in the Union Army as his brother lived in town, a physician who passed away during the 1918 influenza pandemic, and an advocate for temperance and women’s voting rights are among the historical Winonans who will have their stories told and illuminate the city’s history at this year’s Voices from the Past Cemetery Walk: History at a Distance, taking place this weekend at Woodlawn Cemetery.
During the event, which is an annual fall fundraiser for the Winona County Historical Society, attendees will take a self-guided walk from site to site. Different historical Winonans will be portrayed by actors at each site. Attendees may visit the sites in whatever order they like and start their walk whenever they get to the event. It will take about 90 minutes to go to every site.
Attendees are asked to maintain a distance of six feet from others who are not in their party and to wear a mask at the performance sites and the admission table.
While deciding which historical individuals would be portrayed at this year’s walk, event organizers chose people with strong stand-alone stories, Museum Educator Jennifer Weaver shared. “They’re not necessarily tied to a greater theme,” she said. Before about 2008, the walk did not necessarily have a theme, Weaver noted, so this year’s event represents a return to the walk’s roots.
Individuals being portrayed this year include Gustav and Dora Anger, who immigrated from Germany and ran a butcher’s shop in town for a number of years. The Anger block on Walnut Street carries their surname. Gustav lived from 1826 to 1890, and Dora lived from 1839 to 1925.
Thomas and Coleen Bremer are portraying Gustav and Dora. The Bremers shared that practicing their lines and trying to approximate a German accent were parts of preparing to bring Gustav and Dora to life.
Coleen noted that she found Dora adopting her sister’s sons, as well as Dora and Gustav doing well with the shop and having the opportunity to travel to Europe, to be interesting aspects of Dora’s life.
Thomas stated that he thought the success of the shop, which enabled Gustav and Dora to travel to Europe and spend winters in San Antonio, Texas, were intriguing pieces of Gustav’s life.
Other individuals being portrayed are Martha J. Thompson and James Thompson. Martha participated in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union and the National American Woman Suffrage Association as women advocated for their voting rights, which came with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920. She lived from 1838 to 1926.
Nancy and Steve Bachler are portraying the Thompsons. Steve completed research about the Thompsons, in addition to research regarding what was happening on a local and national scale in their lifetime, and wrote a script detailing some of their experiences. The Bachlers then studied the information to prepare for portraying the Thompsons.
Nancy said she had always been curious about the Temperance Movement’s success, and she was sympathetic to Martha’s hard work and devotion. James, who lived from 1829 to 1891, worked as a newspaper pressman, and he suffered lung difficulties and pain as a result of his employment which alcohol helped to abate at a time when not much else was medically available. Steve said one could sympathize with James’ pain.
In relation to Martha’s suffrage work, she was ultimately able to vote in two presidential elections, Nancy noted.
Ruth Fakler Reynolds Lucas, who was crowned Miss Winona and Pancake Queen in 1938 when she was 18, is also being portrayed at this year’s walk. Lucas was involved with many organizations in Winona, including the Girl Scouts, Hospital Auxiliary, Good Fellows and the Humane Society. She taught physical education and acrobatic dance in Arcadia as well. She lived from 1920 to 1999.
Mary Stoltman is portraying Lucas. She read archived newspaper articles to prepare for the role. “Laurie Lucas, one of Ruth’s daughters who many of us know and love, has been very active with the Winona County Historical Society for many years,” Stoltman shared. “I hope to share her mother’s wonderful essence for those who attend the Cemetery Walk this year.”
James W. Stovall is also being portrayed at the event. He was born in 1837 as an enslaved person in Decatur, Alabama. He was a cook in the Union Army. After serving, he came to Winona, where a brother of his lived. Ultimately, he established a restaurant in town and purchased some properties. He also went to a few presidential inaugurations before his passing in 1919.
Elizabeth Lynch Schuler, a physician who was born in 1883 and died in 1918 amid the influenza pandemic, will be portrayed as well.
There will be chairs at rest stops in the cemetery. The chairs will be sanitized frequently.
Guides will be available to assist with giving directions and answering questions.
Refreshments will not be sold. Attendees may bring beverages that are covered or bottled.
Markers will provide further historical information and fun facts.
The event will only be canceled in the event of severe weather. Attendees are asked to dress according to the weather and bring a coat or umbrella if it may rain lightly.
Community members may sponsor a character portrayed at the walk to support the History Center amid it losing field trip funds during the pandemic. The History Center receives over $1,800 each year in field trip funds.
A character may be sponsored for $50, and the funds will assist the History Center with providing free virtual Voices from the Past field trips to local schools. Those interested in sponsoring a character may visit winonahistory.org/voicesfromthepast, call the History Center at 507-454-2723, extension zero, or visit the History Center in-person.
For those unable to attend the walk in-person, a film of the performances may be viewed online for $7 or on DVD for $10 later this month.
By reservation only, community members may attend an accessible performance on Thursday, October 8, at 7 p.m. at the History Center. The audience’s size will be limited, and masks must be worn. The performance will not take place if few reservations are placed. Reservations may be placed by calling 507-454-2723 extension 0.
The Voices from the Past Cemetery Walk: History at a Distance will take place Saturday, October 10, and Sunday, October 11, at Woodlawn Cemetery from 12 to 5 p.m. both days. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students and $3 for children 12 and under. Admission may be paid at the gate. An admission pass may also be bought online prior to the event at winonahistory.org/voicesfromthepast.