Oaklawn Cemetery tours capture historic stories


STURGIS – The Oak Lawn Cemetery Walking Tour is for those who find a cemetery fascinating, especially when they know a little more about the lives of these names carved in stone.

The Sturgis Historical Society is offering the tours for a second year, which began last weekend and will continue on September 24. Local historical figures come to life as re-enactors share their stories.

“Outliers” is this year’s theme. These are people who aren’t usually mentioned but who have contributed to the community in some way, though not always in a traditional sense.

Frank and Nellie Wait followed in the footsteps of Frank’s parents, contributing much to community leadership. But they were deeply involved in the spiritualist church, which probably raised some eyebrows in town.

Their daughter, Helen Wait DeMuro, was an opera singer and traveled the world.

Dr. Eleanor Gillespie and Blanche Emory were life partners and not the first lesbian couple to attend to the medical needs of Sturgis residents. The doctor died in 2009 and was remembered by some in the crowd.

The story of Lucy Hanson, who lived from 1846 to 1869, is shrouded in mystery.  The legend and facts were shared by Hannah Heitger during tours of Oak Lawn Cemetery.

Pam Pant brought a $2 receipt for “EMT” from Dr. Gillespie that she found in her parents’ belongings. It was dated “11-12-46”.

When selecting period clothing for Emory, the doctor’s partner, the group planned for her to wear a dress until a local who remembered her said, “Blanche never wore a dress. dress. She always wore pants.

Lucy Hanson, who died in 1879, is shrouded in mystery. She was buried with an infant son, and a stone intentionally placed face down near her grave has a curious impression that local teenagers found fascinating until the cemetery crew removed it. They were tired of teenagers invading the cemetery at night.

Doug Camburn and Marsha Loyer tell a bit of the story of William and Rosanna Sturgis during tours of Oak Lawn Cemetery.

Rumor has it that Hanson was unfaithful to her husband, therefore to the child. When they both died, the stone was his condemnation of them both.

William and Rosanna Sturgis, sons of Judge John Sturgis, had a variety of successes and failures, including Willam joining the Gold Rush. In the end, the couple returned to Sturgis, perhaps worse for the attrition.

Christian Wilhelm, an industrialist and supporter of his employees and the community, was played by Doug Bates who had an impressive German accent.

Doug Bates has spoken of the contribution to Sturgis through industrialist Christian Wilhelm during tours of Oak Lawn Cemetery organized by the Sturgis Historical Society.

Other “outliers” included:

  • Charles Spence, played by Ryan Davis
  • Frank and Nellie Wait, played by Paul Rooyakkers and Tonya Purlee
  • Helen Wait DeMuro, played by Amanda Camburn
  • William and Rosanna Sturgis, played by Doug Camburn and Marsha Loyer
  • Leut. Aaron B. Sturges, portrayed by Colin Eastman
  • Lacy Hanson, played by Hannah Heitger
  • Eunice Kraft, played by Alex Milton
  • Aloysia “Alle Mac” McLaughlin, played by Barb Neff
  • Christian Wilhelm, played by Doug Bates
  • Dr. Eleanor Gillespie and Blanche Emory, played by Lori Davidsmeyer and Kristi Smith.

Jenifer Blouin Policelli, director of the Sturgis Historical Society and Rachel Boland were the project researchers. She and several others wrote the screenplays, including Amelia Earl, Lynn Jones, Bonnie Mort, Dianne Gorsuch and Sheila Bolda. The visit/walk through the gardens lasted just over an hour.


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