“Your skin gets a little dry after 167 years in the grave,” an actor joked, portraying William Mitchell, a Baptist minister who was buried — in his bed — in Pine Hill Cemetery in Auburn.
On Thursday and Friday nights, Auburn residents and students lined up outside Pine Hill Cemetery for a lantern tour held by the Auburn Heritage Association.
During the 50-minute-long tour through the cemetery, tourgoers heard the story of the founder of Auburn, a freed slave, 98 unknown Confederate soldiers and other historical figures buried in Pine Hill.
“This is the Auburn Heritage Association’s mission, to educate the public about the early history of Auburn,” said Auburn Heritage Association president Mary Norman. “It’s not taught in schools anymore, so this is a very interesting, interactive way to teach people the history of Auburn.”
Groups of around 12 visitors were led by a tour guide through Pine Hill, stopping to listen to actors portraying the lives of some of Auburn’s storied persons.
Ash Lehr portrayed Major John Howard Wills, who served in World War I. Lehr, a member of the 4H Historical Society, is only 13, the youngest of her fellow actors. She said she has served as a ticket holder in the past, but this is the first year she has gotten the opportunity to be an actor.
“You don’t really hear about Alabama history, and I think a lot of people should know more about it,” Lehr said. “And it helps out the community a lot.”
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Lehr said many of the actors spend nearly a year preparing for the tour — practicing their scripts and preparing their costumes.
Sam Hendrix, who portrayed Dr. Charles Cary, is plenty prepared for his role. Hendrix spent three years writing The Cary Legacy, a biography about Dr. Cary, who founded the College of Veterinary Medicine at Auburn — where Hendrix was once a professor.
Dennis Evans, a former professor of agricultural economics and extension specialist for Auburn University, felt the tour was very well done.
“I thought it was awesome,” Evans said. “It’s a great thing, and it raises some money for the cemetery.”
This was Evans’ fourth Pine Hill lantern tour to attend. He said he enjoys seeing the new characters that are chosen each year. The most fascinating this year, he said, was Gatsy Rice, a former slave and the only African-American to be buried in Pine Hill.
“The fact that she has a gravestone and was buried in the cemetery, is just historic in itself,” Evans said. “There’s just so much history here.”
Bre Meyer, a sophomore in computer science at Auburn University, said she has visited the cemetery in the past and wanted to learn more about its history. Meyer also said she was interested in looking at the actors’ costumes, which all reflected the time period in which the person they portrayed lived.
Addy Wadel is a veterinary student who heard about the event from some of her professors. To her, this event offered a way to learn about the City of Auburn and enjoy Halloween-related festivities.
“I’ve been here four years and I haven’t done anything like this,” Wadel said. “It’s nice to take a break from school and be able to learn about the city I’ve been living in for four years now.”
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