History Haunts the Cemetery Tour
Hancock County Historical Society’s Cedar Rest Cemetery Tour has brought the spirit of Halloween to Old Town Bay St. Louis every year since 1993. 5:30 - 8:30pm, Monday, 10/31.
–story by Ana Balka, photos Ellis Anderson and courtesy Hancock County Historical Society archives
The first official tour took place in 1993, making 2016 the 23rd annual tour. The only years the tour didn’t happen were 2005, due to Katrina, and 2015, because of storms. In the spirit of tradition (as well as a continuing desire to prevent Halloween vandalism), the tour always happens on Halloween night, regardless of what night of the week it is.
The tour now functions primarily (according to literature provided by Eddie Coleman, society newsletter historian and editor) to preserve and pass on knowledge of the area, to provide an annual community function that promotes the society, and to accept donations for its upkeep.
HCHS needs volunteers, including 10–12 actors to play historical characters, 10–12 cemetery guides, and also volunteer hosts for the night’s gathering at society headquarters, the Kate Lobrano House at 108 Cue Street. Visitors may meet there for hotdogs, homemade snacks, and punch after they’ve completed the tour. Volunteers are also needed to set up candles and mark the path through the cemetery.
Volunteer actors are required to be HCHS members, but guides and hosts may be people who are interested but have not yet joined. “This is a way members can support the society through the year,” says Coleman. “We [also] accept donations of cookies and cupcakes and things like that to serve when people finish the tour.”
A unique aspect of this tour is that all characters represented are buried in Cedar Rest cemetery, not simply historic figures from the area at large. Also of note: entrance to the tour is free, though donations are gladly accepted.
Kate Lobrano, 1871–1921, whose former home is the society’s headquarters, is the only historical figure who has a permanent place in the tour’s cast of characters. Jackie Allain, Second Vice President on HCHS’s Board of Directors, who along with Eddie Coleman organizes the tour, does annual research to determine each year’s characters.
“I think the most interesting one that I came up with was the Yellow Fever Victim,” she says. “We do know there was an epidemic in town and many people died, but we don’t know where they’re buried.” (The HCHS website shows that the first cases of yellow fever in Bay St. Louis were confirmed on October 17, 1897, and the fever claimed at least a half dozen lives in the area that fall.)
A broken-down rocking chair once sat undisturbed outside the Society’s front door in honor of past member Dorothea Martin, whose character in the first few years of the tour was the “Nearly Departed,” and who was positioned in that chair at the cemetery gates with the donations basket. Katrina destroyed Dorothea’s home and she went to live with relatives in California, but she remained a member and stayed interested in the Hancock County Historical Society until her death in 2007.
Click on any of the thumbnails below to open gallery! All images courtesy of the Hancock County Historical Society
Society member and Bay St. Louis resident Karen West portrayed Hancock County’s first librarian, Louise Crawford in 2013 and this year conveys the story of Ella Ioor, Bay St. Louis Postmistress 1885–’94. “I love being able to find out about these people,” she says, “and I love looking up period costumes.
“It was just fun to stand up there and tell people about it. I enjoyed sharing what I learned about them.”
A relative, possibly a niece, Karen recalls, of Louise Crawford even approached and said she appreciated Karen’s portrayal.
Organizers Jackie and Eddie say that at least two more actors (male or female) are needed for this year’s character portrayals, as well as several cemetery guides and Lobrano House hosts. Those who portray historic figures will get plenty of information and a script to go on. Interested volunteers can call the Lobrano House at 228-467-4090 or stop by from 10–12 and 1–4 any weekday.
The HCHS has a good reputation nationwide for the scope of its records, for its broad membership, and for its ongoing digitization project, which seeks to make files available to all via its website. The cemetery tour plays a major role each year in keeping this and all HCHS resources available to the citizens of Hancock County.
Coleman anticipates a busy night this Halloween. “This is something that you can do on Halloween that’s not just trick-or-treating, and it’s not a scary thing — the kids can come and learn about the history of the area.”