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updated: 9/24/2017 6:15 PM

Elgin cemetery walk brings local history to life

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  • August Conte portrays Gilbert B. Snow, who invented the self-oiling windmill for the Elgin Wind Power and Pump Company, during the annual Elgin Cemetery Walk at Bluff City Cemetery Sunday.

      August Conte portrays Gilbert B. Snow, who invented the self-oiling windmill for the Elgin Wind Power and Pump Company, during the annual Elgin Cemetery Walk at Bluff City Cemetery Sunday.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Dave Carlson and Mary Hogan of Elgin pose for a photo Sunday in front of a 1923 Ford Model T during the annual Elgin Cemetery Walk at Bluff City Cemetery.

      Dave Carlson and Mary Hogan of Elgin pose for a photo Sunday in front of a 1923 Ford Model T during the annual Elgin Cemetery Walk at Bluff City Cemetery.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • A large group navigates Bluff City Cemetery during the annual Elgin Cemetery Walk Sunday.

      A large group navigates Bluff City Cemetery during the annual Elgin Cemetery Walk Sunday.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

  • Andrew Cuming portrays John S. Wilcox -- a Civil War general, attorney and past mayor of Elgin -- during Sunday's annual Elgin Cemetery Walk at Bluff City Cemetery.

      Andrew Cuming portrays John S. Wilcox -- a Civil War general, attorney and past mayor of Elgin -- during Sunday's annual Elgin Cemetery Walk at Bluff City Cemetery.
    Mark Black | Staff Photographer

 

Each fall, the stories of Elgin's historic dead emerge from their graves at the Bluff City Cemetery.

Their spirits -- embodied by skillful volunteers -- shared tales of the past Sunday at the 30th Elgin Cemetery Walk.

Guests waving fans or holding umbrellas to guard against the unseasonable heat, watched as Gilbert B. Snow, manager of the Elgin Wind Power and Pump Company, explained his patent of the self-oiling windmill.

Sporting a derby hat and suspenders, August Conte, the actor portraying Snow, talked about the importance of 19th Century windmills, which helped bring water to farms and steam locomotives and contributed to the settlement of the Western frontier.

Conte has covered a lot of ground, portraying several characters in his 26 years as a volunteer actor. He said he had been doing community theater when he was recruited to participate.

"I just fell in love with the idea," he said, adding he writes his own script for the walk.

Bonnie Conte, his wife, was one of the guides. She was richly attired in period garb, adorned with a sun hat, layers of lace, vintage jewelry and a parasol.

"This is a real gem here," she said of the cemetery. "There is so much to see and take in. It's great history."

Laura Stroud, co-chair of the walk, which is produced by the Elgin History Museum, said the event has enduring appeal. She praised the beauty of the cemetery, which dates back to 1889, but said the walk is about the history.

Residents were greeted by accordion player Jeff Morello, who performed such favorites as "In the Good Old Summertime."

There was also plenty of food, including hot dogs, popcorn and ice cream.

The event is popular, with about 500 to 600 people making the pilgrimage.

Other figures who were the subjects of vignettes included Laura Davidson Sears, a teacher at the Elgin Academy and the wife of Judge Nathaniel Sears, and Fred Traub, who founded Elgin's first bakery.

"I always come because the actors are so animated and they get so into the stories. They pull the crowds in," said Andrea Hall of Rockford.

Among those on hand was Jerry Turnquist, who brought the idea to the board of the Elgin Historical Society.

"The reason I started this was to portray Elgin's rich history," he said. "I don't know if there is a city outside of Chicago that has quite the history we have."

But he also wanted people to remember that "a cemetery is a place that you go to remember people's lives and remember that every life is important."

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