History comes to life at Cookeville Cemetery Walk on Sept. 19

COOKEVILLE – Six city cemetery “residents” have stories to tell – from snake bites to football and everything in between.

It’ll happen Sept. 19 at the 11th biennial Cookeville Cemetery Walk.

“As ironic as it may sound, the cemetery setting really brings history to life,” Beth Thompson, Cookeville museums manager, said of the theatrical experience presented by the City of Cookeville Department of Leisure Services and Public Facilities on even-numbered years. “People take time to stop and really listen to these wonderful tales in the quiet, solemn surroundings. And, of course, you can’t beat the beautiful weather this time of year.”

Tickets are $15 each and are available HERE or by calling Cookeville Performing Arts Center at 931-528-1313.

Audience members may choose either a 6 p.m. walk at dusk or an 8 p.m. walk at night. A guide will lead them down a candlelit path to the six gravesites, where they’ll pause to hear the stories of the people buried there.

The dearly departed include Arnold Lacy (1898-1988), Cora Carter Brown (1895-1969), Sarah Sudekum Wilhite (1898-1995), Barney McCoy Shelton (1924-2008), Eddie “Jelly” Watson (1903-1994) and Mahaley Wiley Shaw (unknown-1879).

“We have a mix of names,” Thompson said. “Some are famous around this area; some are ordinary people who, like most, end up living extraordinary lives in one way or another.”

What kinds of stories will they tell?

Arnold Lacy, portrayed by Cookeville History Museum volunteer Rex Bennett, will share his experiences at the historic Cookeville Pottery Company, which he helped start in 1936.

Cora Carter Brown will be portrayed by retired Cookeville museums manager Judy Duke. She’ll tell an almost unbelievable story about a snake.

Sarah Sudekum Wilhite, portrayed by Cookeville Performing Arts Center’s Kim Frick-Welker, will tell what happens “when you’re a greedy bad guy who is not too smart,” Thompson said.

Barney McCoy Shelton, portrayed by Dwight Henry, former Cookeville city councilman, will share proof that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Eddie “Jelly” Watson will be portrayed by Matt Beal. He’ll tell a tale of Cookeville football… and beyond.

Mahaley Wiley Shaw will be portrayed by veteran community theater actor Joyce Tatum. Attendees will hear about the Cookeville City Cemetery’s biggest benefactor.

“Some of our actors write their own scripts and help us do extensive research into their subjects, resulting in fully fleshed-out stories of true local history,” Thompson said.

In keeping with social distancing guidelines, a few things will be different this year. There will be a reduced capacity of attendees (maximum 20 per group) and no pre-show music entertainment. As for seating, chairs will be arranged into family/friend clusters before each gravesite talk.

Audience members should arrive just before the time of their walk behind the Cookeville City Cemetery office, 241 S. Walnut Ave. Masks are recommended.

“Other than that, our audience can expect the same high level of historical storytelling they’ve grown accustomed to with this event,” Thompson said.

What keeps audiences coming back?

“If we do say so ourselves, the Cemetery Walk is the most-anticipated event of the fall season on even-numbered years,” Thompson said. “We love it, our audience loves it and the actors involved love it. It’s also an event that is appreciated by the families of the people whose graves we visit, as we try to talk with as many of them as we can to gain more insight to their ancestors’ lives and personalities.”

For more information, call the Cookeville History Museum at 931-520-5455.

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