You can see, and hear, dead people on the Evergreen Cemetery Walk.
The venerable event from the Mclean County Museum of History (MCMH) features actors from Illinois Voices Theater enacting historical figures from McLean County’s past. As its name indicates, the Evergreen Cemetery Walk is site specific and highlights the lives of people who are buried in the old cemetery in Bloomington.
Except this year, due to the pandemic, the walk is going virtual. Candace Summers, the museum's education director, said the decision was made in May to record a video of the walk.
“When this whole craziness began, we knew that somehow, someway, we would continue this event," she said. Because it’s just too important to our community, to our school children, and to our theater partners.”
When deciding whether to go live and in person or virtual with the walk, Summers came up with a three-page list of the pros and cons.
“And I have to tell you, quite frankly, the cons to do it in person greatly outweighed the pros. It was a very tough decision. We had about 12 people in on a Zoom call to make this final call in May.”
Summers acknowledged there was some pushback over the decision.
“People said we called it too early, we were being too cautious," she said. "But in the end, we made the right decision and the best decision with what we had at the time.”
One group that was very pleased the walk was going ahead were Twin City area teachers, who utilize the Evergreen Cemetery Walk as a teaching resource each autumn. According to Summers, students make up about 60 percent of the audience served by the annual event. Having the walk available online meant that no matter where students were learning, either at home or in the classroom, they would not miss out.
Another plus with moving the event online involved another major chunk of the Evergreen Cemetery Walk’s audience: seniors.
“There’s only so much we can do with a live and in-person event," said Summers. "We always have wheelchairs and walkers and seat canes available for people who might have mobility issues out here at the walk. But we can’t offer motorized tours. It’s a liability, plus there’s only some places you can take a vehicle safely in the cemetery.”
So, having an online version of the walk was an unanticipated bonus, Summers revealed.
“Now, people can experience the walk no matter what their abilities are, no matter where they are. They can be in the comfort and safety of wherever they may be.”
The online Evergreen Cemetery Walk also is more than just a video, said Summers.
“We can definitely enhance the experience of watching a video. In addition to having the video of the performance where you will meet every character we’re going to have, we can have more information to tell you about other parts of the cemetery that we might not be able to include in the regular portion.
“You always have a tour guide that you can direct questions to as you walk through the cemetery in between each performance. You can’t necessarily do that when you have a virtual event. So, we tried to think about the most popular questions that people always ask us about to include bonus features.”
“For example, the tree carvings," she continued. "Everybody wants to know the story behind the tree carvings out here. So, we’re going to have a video about each one of these tree carvings and how they came to be. And we can include photographs associated with our characters this year. It’s going to be a jampacked virtual presentation!”
Among the real-life characters being depicted at this year's Evergreen Cemetery Walk is a woman who, although she isn’t buried at Evergreen Cemetery, did make a high-profile stop in town in the late 19th century: Susan B. Anthony.
“One of our researchers came across the fact the Edwin Hewett, former president of Illinois State Normal University, debated Susan B. Anthony in downtown Bloomington at the Schroeder Opera House in 1870," Summers said. "The newspapers of the time have some great accounts of that debate. And we also have other information from lectures that Hewett had given a couple of years earlier on his views on why women should not vote.”
The script writers of the Evergreen Cemetery Walk also drew inspiration from Anthony's prolific works.
“We were able to create this script of what that debate might have been like in Schroeder’s Opera House in downtown Bloomington. Hewett is Anthony’s anchor to this cemetery for our event.”
“So, come and join us from wherever you may be for a virtual walk through the cemetery and to hear the voices of the people who made the history in this community.”
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