‘Voices of Our Past’ fundraiser highlights history at Woodlawn Cemetery in Edwardsville


“Voices of Our Past” made a triumphant return to Woodlawn Cemetery in Edwardsville on Saturday.

The fifth annual fundraising event featured re-enactors representing seven “residents” of the historic cemetery and their impacts on modern Edwardsville.

The event has been canceled for the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, Woodlawn partnered with Alumni Players!, a non-profit organization comprised of Edwardsville High School alumni, to produce the event.

“So excited to be doing this event this morning and supporting Woodlawn Cemetery and the Alumni Players! said Craig Becker, President and Creative Director of The Alumni Players! “That’s what our mission is all about, and I feel overwhelmed that we’ve put this together for them.

“We had almost 150 pre-sales, which is phenomenal, and we sold 60 tickets for the first tour this morning. We partner with Woodlawn and we want the community to partner with Woodlawn.

The event included three guided tours at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m., each led by a Woodlawn docent. A special seated candlelight presentation was held in the Woodlawn hillside chapel at 7 p.m. Saturday.

Profits are used for maintenance, necessary repairs and improvements to the cemetery.

“Each walking tour will have seven stations where there is a re-enactor who will give a presentation based on historical facts that have been researched by the Woodlawn Cemetery Association,” Becker said.

For Alumni Players!, “Voices of the Past” was the first of what Becker hopes will be many collaborations with local organizations.

“We hope that we will have many events like this to come along with other sites, buildings and legacy events in Edwardsville in the years to come,” Becker said. “An event like this is history and entertainment plus that connection to Edwardsville.

“Each of the stations on this tour is a postcard from the past. It connects a person from contemporary Edwardsville to someone who died 100 years ago. Everyone in Woodlawn was a citizen of Edwardsville, just like we are citizens and only time separates us.

Vicki Hellmann, who is the secretary of the Woodlawn Cemetery board, was one of the guides for Saturday’s tours.

She was also among those who helped plan this year’s event.

“We’re missing some of the board members that we had when we started doing this, so we’ve all taken on new roles and Tina Mueller, who is one of our board members, has brought together all the characters and wrote the articles on them,” Hellmann said. “She did a lot of research and had the help of Mary Westerhold (former research director of the Madison County Archives Library) who helped us with a lot of historical information about the people in Cemetery.

“We wanted to do it last year, but we weren’t able to do it fast enough. Then the Alumni Players! Approached us and asked if we would like to partner with them. There are only six members on our board, so we definitely said yes because we needed some help.

The fundraiser, formerly known as “Voices of the Past”, has also changed format. It used to be a two or three day event.

“Last year we did it, it was a one day event, but we started on Friday night, Saturday and Sunday, and it was difficult to get all the players to commit to an entire weekend,” Hellmann said. “Then we moved to a Friday evening candlelight event in the chapel with Saturday visitation, and found that having it over two days was still too much.

“This time we decided to do it on Columbus Day weekend, which is a long weekend. It went well and the former players helped us a lot. There’s music this year, which we’ve never had before, and we’re doing daffodil sales, which we’ve never had before. We have goodies this year (including goody bags for everyone on the tour) and the American Heritage Girls (Troop 2911) are turning on the lights and they also baked cookies for us which we will also have tonight.

Mueller, like Hellmann, was happy the event was up and running again after being closed for the past two years.

“We had a group of people who used to do this, but when COVID hit, everything slowed down,” said Mueller, who also served as a tour guide on Saturday. “When it came time to take things over, I was the one who took up the torch and did the research. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year at the Madison County Historical Society Library, as well as at Newspapers.com and on the Internet.

“I looked for people that I thought were interesting and that I could find enough information about that we could actually tell a story from their life. I have a minor in history, so for me it was dangerous. I was researching something and the next thing I knew was that three hours had passed and I had only written two pages of notes. Diving into the past is so interesting and you learn so much about the people who are buried here and how they lived their lives.

The “voices from our past” and the re-enactors who represented them included:

  • Dr. Joseph Pogue (1835-1919), Legacy: Beloved physician and community leader, portrayed by Robert Semon (EHS Class of 1972).
  • Sarah J. Whiteside-Pogue (1842-1862), Legacy; first wife of Dr. Joseph Pogue, played by Myra Schoenleber-Farrell (EHS Class of 1973)
  • Ryderus Clark Gillham Jr., Legacy (1836-1910); Freemason and social justice advocate, portrayed by Mitchell Horsley (EHS Class of 1972).
  • Mary Littleton McCorkle-Pogue (1862-1906), Legacy: Dr. Joseph Pogue’s third wife, played by Cara Franke-Lytle (EHS Class of 1973).
  • Hester Good (1834-1906), Legacy: Devoted Mother and Wife, portrayed by Debbie Schumacher-Rathert (EHS Class of 1971).
  • Josephine Sloupa Zilka (1853-1939), Heritage: Courageous Immigrant, played by Grace Pellock (EHS class of 2017).
  • Nicholas Seib (1822-1897), Legacy; master saddler, portrayed by Michael Lambert (EHS class of 1973).
  • Charles Sheridan Keown (1864-1931), Legacy; Edwardsville’s first telegraph operator, portrayed by Loren Fear (EHS Class of 1978).
  • Mary Matilda Barnsback (1844-1919), Legacy: Equestrian Champion, played by Megan Pellock (EHS class of 2015).
  • Sarah Conventry (1863-1949), Legacy: Edwardsville’s first librarian, played by Barb Jurgena-Stamer (EHS Class of 1974)

Additionally, Mike Pellock (EHS Class of 1974) and Nick Lampman (EHS Class of 2010) were musicians, while James Ashwill (Honorary Player) portrayed a gravedigger.

Daffodil bulbs were sold at the event to raise additional funds for Woodlawn Cemetery.

One of the stops on the tour featured three tea ladies – Mary Littleton McCorkle-Pogue, Hester Good and Josephine Sloupa Zilka – performing the “Daffodil Song”.

“Mary is buried where her crown is, but there is no marker for her grave,” Becker said. “In order to give it a living memorial, we will plant a hill of daffodils just behind it. This is where the three ladies have tea, and they will come to meet the tour group as they pass.

“They have a beautiful song they sing, and they want people to have nothing but daffodils, so it’s kind of an advertisement. I wrote a song to the tune of ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ and the song is now part of the American music repertoire, so I don’t have to pay a royalty.

For more information on Woodlawn Cemetery, http://woodlawnedwardsville.org/.



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