Conversations from the Grave by Connie Doebele

Ever heard the tag line "Where History Comes to Life"?

Well, I got to see it in use firsthand recently at the Thornrose Cemetery in Staunton, Va. The local historical society sponsored a tour of this place. Real-life historical figures would walk out from the shadows of their graves to talk to us about their lives, how they ended up buried here, and what it all meant to them.

My favorite was Jedediah Hotchkiss, the mapmaker for Stonewall Jackson. Its so easy to just focus on the big names of the Civil War and forget the many, many people who, like Hotchkiss, were instrumental in the conflict. He was portrayed by local actor Brian Holsopple.

More than 1,700 confederate soldiers — many unidentified — are buried at Thornrose. Like the soldier below, played by local musician John Dull. He told us in graphic detail the horrors of life in the Confederate Army, and the horrors of his death. Then he played us a sweet, sad song on his guitar.

But for pure enjoyment, its hard to beat the presentation of 10th grader Anna McIntyre, portraying Eva Clark. Eva was a trapeze artist with the circus traveling through town. Her death was violent, the result of a love triangle gone bad.

And finally, our Madam. The brothels of the 1800s and 1900s were described by Sherry Talbott as Marguiretta de Crescioli. Her stories reminded me of the important role that bawdy houses played in the 19th and early 20th century in Virginia.

This is quite a novel way to get people involved in history! Hearing from characters portraying real people in such a historic setting is an experience that is hard to forget. I wonder why more places don't do this.

I suppose my favorite pic of the day was one I wasn't supposed to get. A tired actor in the hot, Virginia sun took a break against one of the larger gravestones that provided a little shade. At least I think that's who it was!!

Join Connie Doebele and Carol M. Highsmith as they travel all over America, capturing video and photographic images that will be donated copyright-free to the Library of Congress.

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