It was 8 p.m. on a Friday evening and the weather was chilly at 40 degrees. The 200-year old graveyard at St. James’ filled up with an eager crowd holding lanterns. People of all ages attended, dressed in their winter gear. The tour was about to begin.
St. James’ Church in Hyde Park kicked off their 9th season with their annual Historic Graveyard Tour. Originally a run up for the bi-centennial church celebration in 2011, the tour has remained a popular event for many years. In fact, 200 people turned out for the first tour that the crowd had to be split into three groups. “My family and I look forward to the tour every year. I’m always amazed by the production. It’s definitely one of the biggest highlights for the church,” said parishioner Stephanie Carson.
The tour consisted of approximately eight actors stationed in different parts of the cemetery. Each of the actors played characters who were buried at St. James’ Church. Around half of the actors are parishioners, and half are not. Every year has non-coincidentally turned into a different theme for the tour. One year the theme was slavery, while another year the tour concentrated on disabilities. This year, the focus was on those who were connected to the First World War. The script is written by a committee of parish volunteers who plan months in advance for the momentous parish event.
The crowd followed the dark path of the graveyard, led by a host for the hour. Each actor described their character’s background and major roles they took on in life. Dressed in costume of the era, characters ranged from Red Cross personnel, soldiers, lieutenants and even chefs to President Roosevelt.
The host for the evening, Russell Urban-Mead led the crowd in an animated voice and took the group to each stationed actor. A family affair–Urban Mead’s wife, Wendy was the director of the tour this year. Smiling, he sat in a church pew before the start of the 8:00 p.m. tour, enthusiastic for the evening. “It’s an exciting time for our parish where everyone comes together to work on the tour. There is a lot of history that many people do not even know about, just in front of our eyes in the 200-year old cemetery,” Urban-Mead admits.
The Rev. Chuck Kramer has been at St. James’ Church for 21 years. He made his debut appearance as an actor in this year’s tour. Kramer played Ogden Livingston Mills, U.S Secretary of the Treasury during Herbert Hoover’s presidency. Kramer was the first actor for the evening, and passionately depicted the spirit of Mills with his gestures and keen storytelling.
Recounting the intention of the tour, Kramer sat in his office, filled with books, sacred embellishments and bright colors. “There are three goals of the tour. One is to entertain. One is to inform and one is to inspire,” Kramer said.
Partakers of the St. James’ Historic Graveyard Tour can expect to be educated on major roles individuals played during World War I. It is a night to learn about the lives of the souls who rest in the church’s cemetery.
Kramer is proud of the impact the tour has left on people for the past eight years as well as the light it sheds on history. “The tour makes people come alive in a way that tugs at the heart and has people thinking ‘wow.’ It engages both the funny bone and the heart,” Kramer said.
The tour runs for three weeks in October on Friday and Saturday night’s starting at 7:00, 7:30 and 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $20 and proceeds go to the on-going ministry and outreach of the church.
(from left to right) Pete Bedrossian, playing the role of (William) Gerald Morgan.
Andrew William Gordineer, 21, playing the role of William T. White.
Reverend Chuck Kramer in his parish office at St. James’ Church.