'Every stone has a story' at Elgin Cemetery Walk

  • Andrew Cuming portrays John S. Wilcox, Civil War general, attorney and mayor of Elgin during a previous Elgin Cemetery Walk. This year, he will portray Orlo Salisbury.

    Andrew Cuming portrays John S. Wilcox, Civil War general, attorney and mayor of Elgin during a previous Elgin Cemetery Walk. This year, he will portray Orlo Salisbury. Daily Herald File Photo, 2016

  • The Elgin Cemetery Walk, set for Sunday, Sept. 23 at Bluff City Cemetery, consists of a 90-minute guided tour in which costumed actors portray people from Elgin's past.

    The Elgin Cemetery Walk, set for Sunday, Sept. 23 at Bluff City Cemetery, consists of a 90-minute guided tour in which costumed actors portray people from Elgin's past. Daily Herald File Photo, 2016

  • Bonnie Conte portrays a former Elginite buried nearby during a previous Elgin Cemetery Walk.

    Bonnie Conte portrays a former Elginite buried nearby during a previous Elgin Cemetery Walk. Courtesy of Elgin History Museum

  • Car dealer and mayor Orlo Salisbury will be one of the most recently deceased people featured in an Elgin Cemetery Walk. He died in 1979.

    Car dealer and mayor Orlo Salisbury will be one of the most recently deceased people featured in an Elgin Cemetery Walk. He died in 1979. Courtesy of Elgin History Museum

  • Franc Wilkie's question-provoking gravestone inspired the route for this year's Elgin Cemetery Walk.

    Franc Wilkie's question-provoking gravestone inspired the route for this year's Elgin Cemetery Walk. Courtesy of Elgin History Museum

 
By Dave Gathman
Daily Herald correspondent
Posted9/18/2018 1:27 PM

"Every stone has a story," Laura Stroud has found out as she and her husband, Steve, wander through Bluff City Cemetery in Elgin and choose which people buried there should rise from the grave in each year's Elgin Cemetery Walk.

Five of those dead people will be resurrected when the Elgin History Museum holds its 31st annual walk at Bluff City from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 23. As visitors walk from grave site to grave site, actors who have studied the lives of the people buried below and have dressed as them will give 10-minute presentations about their "memories."

 

One new aspect this year will be a Family Friendly Tour starting at 3 p.m.

"For families who have children and no sitter available, we'll have some little interactive things for the children to do if they get antsy," Laura Stroud explained. "On that tour we'll have an adult guide and also a student volunteer for the children."

Last year, Stroud said, guide Andrew Ross noticed some hearing-impaired people taking the tour and was able to translate what the actors were saying into American Sign Language for them. So this year Ross will be available to sign for any hard-of-hearing people who come.

Typically, each tour group walks from grave to grave under the guidance of a volunteer guide. But after noticing that some people had trouble negotiating the hills at Bluff City, two years ago the organizers also started offering a small bus to move those people around. Stroud said that has proved very popular and will be offered again this year. But she urged anyone who wants to use the bus to call the history museum at (847) 742-4248 before Sunday to reserve a seat on the bus.

Like last year, refreshments will be available. People waiting for a tour time will be able to choose from Wienerville hot dogs, K's Ultimate Creations ice cream, and Mama Lee's Gourmet Popcorn.

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How do the Strouds decide which past Elginites to feature each year?

"We don't want to do just the movers and shakers," Laura Stroud said. "They've all been done. We go back and forth from the east half of the cemetery to the west half. Sometimes someone will recommend one character and we'll build the others around that person."

The inspiration this year, she said, was Franc B. Wilkie, who died in 1892 at the age of 60. "We have always been fascinated by the headstone of Franc Wilkie," Stroud said. "It's a big one and it says he died in Chicago. So we looked him up and what a story we found!

"We found out Wilkie had been a newspaper reporter in the Civil War. Then he worked for newspapers in Iowa and in Chicago. He wrote many books. His connection to Egin was mainly through his wife. And we found that despite what the stone says, he actually died in Norwood Park, not Chicago."

Wilkie will be portrayed by Steve Lewandowski, who hasn't acted in the cemetery walk yet.

One of the most recently living people ever to be re-created will be impersonated by one of the walk's most veteran actors. Andrew Cuming will portray Orlo Salisbury, a former Elgin mayor and auto dealer who lived from 1891 to 1979.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"It's very intimidating to portray someone so recent," Cuming said. "Some people who come by will have known the real Orlo Salisbury."

Cuming, 31, grew up in New York and didn't move to Elgin until a year after graduating from Northwestern University. But he has become so involved in his adopted city since then that he now owns and manages 14 buildings in the City to Watch, including the former Carswell's store.

"This will be my fourth year portraying someone on the walk," Cuming said. "Last year I was Civil War general John Wilcox.

"The museum staff will give me a packet of newspaper articles, Census records and court records about the person, and I will Google him. I feel I was able to understand Orlo Salisbury fairly well. I try to get into the character's head and tell his story as he would have told it, like bringing him back to life. People aren't coming to see someone just present information. They're coming to 'see' that person."

Cuming said Salisbury sold several makes in his auto dealerships along "Car Dealers Row" in downtown Elgin. "He started with a car called the Elgin 6, which actually was manufactured in Argo, Illinois."

Two of the other characters both were named Chappell but, the Strouds discovered, apparently are not related to each other.

Nellie Mann Chappell (1864-1917) was prominent in social circles and the subject of scandal and mystery. She will be portrayed by Marilyn House, who has acted in local theater troupes, but is a rookie to the cemetery walk.

"She was married to a prominent dentist, Ora Chappell," Stroud said. "They had a very contentious marriage and it was the talk of the town, discussed almost daily in the newspapers. She left town for awhile. She wouldn't tell anyone where she was going, and her sons alleged their father had kidnapped her."

Nellie's nonrelative, Margaret "Maggie" Renwick Chappell (1841-1888), was a socialite hounded by tragedy. "She married Edward Chappell, who was very political and joined the Union Army in the Civil War," Stroud said. "When he left, she was pregnant and they had one son a year old. Her husband died in the Army in Rolla, Missouri, not from wounds but from a disease. Then both her little boys died from childhood illnesses. She never really recovered from all that and died at the age of 47 herself."

Maggie will be portrayed by Rebecca Miller.

Miller, a young volunteer, premiered in the walk in 2016 by playing the winner of the 1925 Miss Elgin Tournament. Last year she portrayed Libbie Goll, founder of the Resthaven convalescent home.

The fifth Elginite back from the dead this year will be Walter H. Kimball (1838-1936), a member of Elgin's first West Side family who answered Lincoln's call to serve in the Civil War and came back to run the family farm until he was almost 100. Kimball will be portrayed by a local Civil War buff, Matt Walters, in Walters' first cemetery walk role.

Besides the five graveside re-creations, volunteers will offer lecture-style "vignettes" about Victorian funeral costumes, the spinning wheel gravestone, zinc monuments and the care of Civil War monuments.

The walk -- tickets are $10-15 -- is expected to draw about 600 people and is a major source of funds to support the Elgin History Museum.

The Strouds have organized the walks for the past 12 years but have been assisted this year by a committee of 18 other volunteers.

"Someone asked what we will do when we run out of people to portray," Steve Stroud said. "That'll never happen.'"

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