It is 8 p.m. on a Friday evening and the weather is chilly at 40 degrees. The 200-year old graveyard at St. James’ fills up with an eager crowd holding lanterns. People of all ages attend, dressed in their winter gear. The tour is about to begin.
St. James’ Church in Hyde Park kicks 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 3 groups.
The tour consists of approximately 8 actors stationed in different parts of the cemetery. Each of the actors plays characters who were buried at St. James’. Around half of the actors are parishioners, and half are not. Each 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.
The crowd follows the dark path of the graveyard, led by a host for the hour. Each actor tells their character’s background and major role in life. Some of the characters ranged from Red Cross personnel, soldiers, lieutenants and chefs to President Roosevelt.
The host for the evening, Russell Urban-Mead leads the crowd in an animated voice and takes the crowd to each stationed actor. Urban-Mead’s wife is the director of the tour this year. He sits in a church pew, before the start of the 8:00 tour and is 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 many do not even know about, just in front of our eyes in the 200-year old cemetery,” admits Urban-Mead.
This year, the focus was on those who were connected to the First World War. Chuck Kramer, The Revered, of 21 years at St. James’ made his debut appearance as an actor in this year’s tour. He played Ogden Livingston Mills, U.S Secretary of the Treasury during Herbert Hoover’s presidency.
Recounting the intention of the tour, the Reverend sits 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,” said the Reverend.
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.
The Revered is proud of the impact the tour has left on people for the past 8 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,” said the Reverend.
The tour runs for 3 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.