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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Deceased Grinnellians walk again at the Hazelwood Cemetery Walk

The Historical Museum hosted a Cemetery Walk at Hazelwood Cemetery Saturday, Oct. 6. Photo by Zoey Kohler.

“Lemme’ get my years right … when you’re dead, your memory goes right out the window!” joked Eliza Ann Bartlett Howard at the first stop on the Hazelwood Cemetery Walk for notable women in Grinnell.

Mrs. Howard, of course, has been dead for 55 years. She and five other women on the walk rose from the dead just for the sake of seeing the sky and sharing mini-autobiographies of their lives with the living cemetery-goers. Elsewhere in the cemetery Grinnellians with a notable history in the military also rose from their graves to reminisce about their lives and their community.

“I was heartbroken when I found out it was a sod house,” Mrs. Howard said, recounting when she moved into her first husband’s house. “It’s a brick made of prairie sod, hard packed grass and dirt. The floor is just dirt with a rug on top, and the rest is just grass and dirt. It gets everywhere, and I mean everywhere.”

Outside of the trip back in time, the Grinnell Historical Museum worked to organize the walk for months.

“Summer and fall, we worked on a lot of research to get this done, ’cause that’s the thing,” said Barbara Lease, one of the event organizers. “You want it to be right.”

Their hard work showed; from a dentist with years of unlicensed experience, to a proliferous photographer with thousands of images to her name, the museum managed to find interesting and little-known people. One attendee commented that, “I was surprised there were so many people that I’d never even heard of.”

Any Grinnell student walking amongst the gravestones would recognize names of families the College residence halls are named for, including Gardner, Rose and Cowles. One resurrected women on the tour was Joanna Harris Haines, who loved recalling stories of her family’s role in the Underground Railroad.

The tour was originally planned for Sept. 29, but bad weather postponed it until the next week. As a result, a couple of the actors and actresses couldn’t make it, but their last-minute replacements did a great job filling in the roles. If not for the scripts the replacements were reading from, cemetery visitors likely wouldn’t have realized they weren’t originally meant for the role.

The last time an event like this took place was “around twenty years ago,” Lease said. “We would have loved to do costumes, but 12 period costumes … we just couldn’t do it.”

The actors and actresses wore black clothing for the most part, though one actress managed to find a beret for her character Isabelle Beaton, who studied in France for a large portion of her life. Lease expressed hope for more appropriate period clothing in the future, ideally when the weather wasn’t cold enough to chill both the living and the dead.

Overall, the Hazelwood Cemetery Walk was a success, and the undead visitors have gone back to rest. Hopefully, in the spring Grinnell students can visit the next set of Hazelwood Cemetery residents that the Grinnell Historical Museum will resurrect.

The Historical Museum hosted a Cemetery Walk at Hazelwood Cemetery Saturday, Oct. 6. Photo by Zoey Kohler.
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