Folks just across the border in Hudson are resurrecting cemetery walks as a way to shed light on the Wisconsin city's history.
With the Pearly Gate Singers crooning common funeral hymns such as "The Old Rugged Cross" and "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," guiding "angels" will lead guests on a tour through the Willow River Cemetery on Saturday, stopping at the tombstones of eight "spirits" of Hudson's past to tell their stories.
"This is a fun, unique way to get people to learn about history," said Jacki Bradham, a volunteer with the St. Croix County Historical Society (SCCHS) who is coordinating the event. "People are not aware of our past, and they can't appreciate anything they are not aware of."
The walks will be offered in conjunction with the city's Yellowstone Trail Days, a weekend-long celebration that marks the 100th anniversary of the Yellowstone Trail, the first transcontinental auto highway in the United States. More than 400 miles of the trail, which runs from Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts to Washington state's Puget Sound, passes through Wisconsin. Festival events also include a classic car show, fiddlers, silent movies and a gangster cruise.
This will be the first time in seven years the SCCHS has put on the cemetery walk, which is patterned after a similar event in Galena, Ill. They were discontinued after the society's volunteer scriptwriter stepped down. But Bradham revived the walks this year because it was a good fit with the historical focus of the Yellowstone Trail Days celebration.
She recruited volunteers to play the roles of eight Hudson residents who have played prominent roles in the city's development. Guests will "meet" Anita North, the city's first millionaire; Thomas and Mary Hughes, who were prominent musicians; Boyd Williams, who founded the Williams Cancer Sanatorium, and Essie Williams, the first female attorney to plead a case before the Minnesota Supreme Court.
They also will meet Charlie Ward, who shared a cell with Herbert Bigelow while serving time at Leavenworth Penitentiary in Kansas and later rose to become an executive officer at Brown & Bigelow.
"Charlie Ward is clearly one of the most colorful characters in Hudson's past," said Daryl Standafer, a Hudson resident who will portray Ward and has pored over Ward's file from the Bureau of Prisons to create his script. "The challenge is to distill the volume down to a manageable monologue with the most significant parts of Mr. Ward's life."
Proceeds from ticket sales will go to the SCCHS and the Octagon House Museum. In case of bad weather, the event will be moved to Bethel Lutheran Church at 920 3rd St.
"There is an interesting history here, and people want to connect with their roots," Bradham said. "Cemetery walks are a good way to do that. They are entertaining and fun."
Tim Harlow • 651-925-5039, Twitter: @timstrib