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Strolling through the past

Cemetery Walk actors portray historic FD?figures

May 27, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, Messenger staff writer , Messenger News

When portraying a mayor, Civil War soldier, or gypsum worker from 100 years ago, it's important to look the part. Styles were considerably more complex than modern T-shirts and blue jeans in those days.

Fortunately, the Oakland Cemetery Walk has excellent costumers.

The 10th annual Cemetery Walk will be June 9. Visitors will park at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1436 21st Ave. N., and take a shuttle bus to Oakland cemetery, where a guide will lead them past nine characters from Fort Dodge's history played by local actors.

Article Photos

Robert Durian, 1920-1982, played by Fred Kesten; Durian was a Navy Air Corps torpedo bomber pilot who was awarded two Navy Crosses and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

The costumes are provided by Masque Productions, the theatrical arm of Party Productions. Dan Garst, Party Productions' owner, is also a member of the Friends of Oakland Cemetery group which puts on the walk.

"Basically the process is, we figure out the person they're portraying ... and where that happens to fall in the history of Fort Dodge. Are we in the '20s, the '40s, the late 1800s?" Garst said.

Genuine historical styles can pose a challenge for the actors.

Fact Box

WHAT: 10th annual Oakland Cemetery Walk

WHEN: Tours begin every 10 minutes, starting at 1 p.m. June 9; one performance at 3 p.m. June 10

WHO: Friends of Oakland Cemetery

WHERE: June 9, Oakland Cemetery; June 10, Bioscience and Health Sciences Building on the Iowa Central Community College campus

TICKETS: Adults, $7; children 10 and younger admitted free

PARKING is not permitted at Oakland Cemetery on the day of the walk, so visitors to the walk will be shuttled to the cemetery from Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1436 21st Ave. N.

THE WALK is considered easy, but it is not handicapped or stroller accessible. Chairs will be available at each stop. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended.

"They had umpteen layers on. With their petticoats and all that, it's hot and heavy," he said. "Some of that wool stuff, it's like you're going to pass out, you'd think. You wonder how people survived with clothing of that nature back then."

He also said people tended to be shorter and thinner back then.

Dalene Elmore, who works in the costume department, gave more specifics.

"I have some authentic patterns and they go to size 20 waist, and a 20 waist is a normal toddler now," Elmore said. "Twenty to 26 inches was their normal waist. A 31 waist was plus-size back then.

"It's been fun trying to re-create the patterns in a larger size, because patterns don't tell how to enlarge or decrease the originals. ... Of course, nobody today wants to wear the corsets and everything it took to make them that tiny."

She said while she could sometimes take a costume off the shelf of a warehouse, usually she ended up putting things together from patterns.

"Some styles they do not put in a costume, so you have to make it from back then."

Aside from the challenge of changing the sizes of patterns, a lot of the styles from back then are just plain difficult to recreate, she said.

"Trying to figure out the old patterns - it's not something we have made before. We don't make fancy frills on the bottoms of jackets, or the 15 pleats it takes to make a skirt. We just don't do that anymore.

"I love to sew, so I enjoy the challenge, but sometimes it really pushes you to the limit."


The list of characters, and the details that bring them to life, is the result of work done by Jerry Rowe. Rowe founded the Cemetery Walk and still does all of the research.

It takes a lot to put it all together, but Rowe said he thrives on doing historical research.

"I usually go down to the historical library and look through books, then you go find obituaries, and go from there," he said. "You can usually find something about somebody.

"What's difficult to find is women," he added. "Up until the 1900s when women's rights came in, basically they cooked meals, and had kids, and worked in the field, and that was it. But you have a few that stood out. We had a woman doctor, a gynecologist, back in 1870 that we'll do next year."

Rowe said he has already started on the research for next year's walk.

An actor's perspective

Armed with this research, the actors are able to create their five- to six-minute presentations.

Ted Hugghins will play Webb Vincent, a Civil War soldier, pioneer of the gypsum industry, and owner of the Vincent House, which is now owned by the YWCA and on the National List of Historic Places. Hugghins said he was given all kinds of documents detailing Vincent's life - more than he can use in his presentation.

"You have to make it interesting," Hugghins said. "I've written it all, but I haven't toned it down yet. I'm still in the process."

What's something interesting he learned from the research?

"He had a brother named Beth, and a son named Beth, so that's one thing," Hugghins said.

Hugghins coordinated the walk, along with Jerry and Marva Rowe, for the first few years, but in recent years he's been unable to participate because of scheduling conflicts.

"I'm glad I can participate this year. It's so fun to step out of my life and into the life of somebody else," he said.

A special cemetery

Deann Haden-Luke, publicity chairman for the Friends of Oakland Cemetery, said the Cemetery Walk's purpose is to teach people about the past, as well as to draw attention to Oakland Cemetery.

Oakland is on the National Register of Historic Places, an unusual distinction for a cemetery, according to Haden-Luke. It was part of the Rural Cemetery Movement and is designed like a park, with winding roads, hills and streams.

Towns didn't really have city parks back then, so the cemetery was a place to have picnics, go for walks, and enjoy nature. Before the Rural Cemetery Movement caught on, most burials were done in church lots.

Haden-Luke said she got involved with the Cemetery Walk because she loves learning about history. The purpose of it is "just to remind people in Fort Dodge where we've been, the past we have, which is varied and sometimes colorful."

The Cemetery Walk will begin at 1 p.m. on June 9, with tours leaving every 10 minutes. The walk should last about 80 minutes. There are chairs at each character's site. Hugghins recommended comfortable walking shoes. While waiting for the shuttle, there will be homemade ice cream available at the church.

Characters in the walk will be:

Egbert Bagg Jr., 1850-1915, played by Kevin Rogers on June 9 and Jerry Schnurr June 10; Bagg was the son of Oakland Cemetery's designer, and a well-known ornithologist.

Robert Durian, 1920-1982, played by Fred Kesten; Durian was a Navy Air Corps torpedo bomber pilot who was awarded two Navy Crosses and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Anna Scott Meservey, 1850-1900, played by Susan Helling; she was the wife of Mayor Stillman Meservey, prominent figure in the gypsum industry.

Samuel Rees, 1817-1897, played by Steve Kersten; he was a Fort Dodge businessman, mayor and judge who came to the city at the opening of the United States Land Office.

Mack Hurlbut, 1870-1933, played by Jesse Helling; Hurlbut was a Fort Dodge jeweler.

Elizabeth R. Butler, 1896-1984, played by Cheryl Sherry; Butler was a school administrator in Pennsylvania and New York.

Dr. Margaret K. Butler, 1889-1971, played by Susan Ahlers Leman; she was a high school teacher and school physician who served on the staff of the American Committee for Devastated France.

Webb Vincent, 1841-1930, played by Ted Hugghins; he was a Civil War soldier and active leader in the gypsum industry.

Dr. Harley G. Ristine, 1838-1917, played by John Bonner; Ristine was a Civil War soldier and long-time Fort Dodge physician.

Contact Joe Sutter at (515) 573-2141 or



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