When you hear “Talking Tombstones,” Halloween may come to mind, or the cheesy new headstones (that I accidentally found when Googling the event) that can spout your grandparents recorded voices from the grave. But this event put on by Historic Preservation students at SEMO is anything but spooky, gaudy, or cheesy.
As a current student in the Historic Preservation program, I have heard snippets all semester of the progress my fellow students had been making on their Talking Tombstones projects. The students involved had enrolled in a living history class taught by Dr. Joel Rhodes. In this class students explored different types of living history including storytelling festivals and craft demonstrations. Acting exercises were also a part of class, for which River Campus students were enlisted to help out. Talking Tombstones became the big capstone project that the living history students put together using all of the skills they learned in class.
This event came to fruition through the efforts of SEMO graduate student Jenn Hardaway. Jenn is known throughout the Historic Preservation Program for her love and passion of cemetery preservation, so it is quite fitting that she chose to create a cemetery interpretive program for her Advanced Project for her Master’s Degree. She paired up with Dr. Rhodes as his Teaching Assistant for the Living History class to bring Cape Girardeau’s past back to life.
With Talking Tombstones, Jenn and the Living History students hope to expel myths that cemeteries are “scary and dangerous” and can only be used as the setting of horror movies. Instead, this event is to provide an educational and interesting experience to show that cemeteries provide a sense of community pride.
The performing students are going all out for this event. They have done so much preparation and historical research, and the people portrayed are from all walks of life: immigrants, women, and even former slaves. I have also heard that the costumes are pretty convincing! Overall, Jenn describes Talking Tombstones as a place where you’ll witness people from the past “visiting with local townspeople, discussing the day’s news, traveling on voyages, and bringing in the railroad.”
Student performer Jordan Cuneio labels the event as a way to “tell the stories of people who lived in Cape before us.” The students picked their person by walking through Old Lorimier Cemetery and finding a tombstone that “spoke” to them. Jordan chose Sarah Poe because her tombstone “is flat on the ground, not standing up…and it says ‘Sarah Poe, Consort of Isaiah Poe’ so the consort drew me in.”
I am so proud to be a part of this program of study that encourages such hard work, enthusiasm, and community engagement. So come on out to Old Lorimier Cemetery either Friday or Saturday evening and recognize these students’ accomplishments!
Talking Tombstones is a free event open to the public. It is based on a first-come, first-serve basis and there are a limited number of spaces available. I hope to see you at Old Lorimier Cemetery this weekend where we will be transported back in time to 19th-century Cape Girardeau!
Check out the Talking Tombstones event page on Facebook!
Friday, May 3rd @ 6 p.m.
Saturday, May 4th @ 3 p.m.