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Cemetery Walk Volunteer Chronicles 25-Year ‘Journey’ Through McLean County History

If there's an interesting story to tell about McLean County's history, Amy Miller has probably heard it.
She's one of two McLean County Museum of History volunteers who has helped all 25 years of the Evergreen Cemetery Walk in Bloomington. The other is museum archivist George Perkins. 

“I love history,” Miller declared. “I’ve always had an interest in local history.”

John Bowen as Oliver Munsell
Credit Torii Moré
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John Bowen portrays Oliver Munsell during this year's Evergreen Cemetery Walk.

Miller has worked for 38 years at Country Financial, where she handles recordkeeping. She figures that's a logical career for someone who enjoys sharing the stories of recorded history.

Miller became a museum volunteer a few years before the cemetery walk started in 1995. The history museum came up with the walk at a time of frequent cemetery vandalism. Organizers said they wanted to show the historical significance of the cemeteries so the public would treat them with more respect.

Miller recalls the first cemetery walk told the stories of former Vice President Adlai Stevenson, Supreme Court Justice David Davis' wife Sarah, baseball Hall of Famer Charles “Old Hoss” Radbourn, and several others through reenactments.

Miller said she loves sharing our community's history because it demonstrates that people are people, regardless of their place in history.

“Even though some of these folks have been gone well over 50-plus years, we still share common experiences,” she said. “If doesn’t matter that you live in the 21st century digital world or the 19th century horse and buggy world.”

Miller said Jesse Fell, who founded Illinois State University and many communities, is a personal favorite, but she also appreciates hearing the stories of lesser-known people who made impacts in their own ways. 

“They don’t have to necessarily be the well-to-do, but I find the everyday common person probably has one of the most interesting stories to share,” she said.

Lynda Rettick as Florence Kaywood
Credit Candace Summers
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Lynda Rettick portrays Florence Kaywood during this year's Evergreen Cemetery Walk.

This year’s walk includes the stories of Charles Kirkpatrick, who was a longtime Bloomington businessman, civic leader and organizer; Annie May Christian, known as an enthusiastic leader of the local Amateur Musical Club; Ebenezer Wright, head of the western agency for the New York Juvenile Asylum, an institution that send children west on the orphan train; Florence Kaywood, who spent 16 years caring for female prisoners and their children while serving as a police matron for the City of Bloomington; Oliver Munsell, who helped revive a shuttered Illinois Wesleyan University in his time as president, though his tenure was tarnished by scandal; and Napoleon and Louise Calimese, who spent 30 years as superintendent and matron, respectively, for the McLean County Home for Colored Children.

Miller said the Calimeses' story helps tie the past with the present as that home, which desegregated many years ago, is now Children’s Home & Aid in Bloomington.

“It helps young people who may have a rough start in life but puts them on the right path and of course the cemetery walk is about a path and a journey,” Miller explained. “All the 183 people we have portrayed these past 25 years have had a path or a journey that we can all take some value from.”

Tickets cost $17 for the general public, $15 for museum members and $5 for children and students. They can be purchased at the museum, Evergreen Memorial Cemetery or at mchistory.org.

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