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City Pulse: Dead Victorians rise at annual VPI Cemetery Tours

By Bianca Montes
Oct. 23, 2013 at 5:23 a.m.

Matt Albrecht portrays Major George Washington Lafayette Fly during the 2013 Cemetery Tour presented by Victoria Preservation Inc. The tours are Friday and Saturday night.

If you go

• WHAT: Cemetery Tours

• WHEN: 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday*

• WHERE: Evergreen Cemetery, on Vine Street between Red River and Brazos streets

COST: $12

*Tour starts at 7 p.m.; be ready at 6:45 p.m.

Presale tickets available:

• Victoria Preservation, Inc., 205 W. Goodwin Ave.

• Rogers Pharmacy, 4402 N. Laurent St.

• Devereux Gardens, 1313 N. Navarro St.

• Museum of the Coastal Bend, 2200 E. Red River St.

• Shop The World, 6902 N. Navarro St.

Who you'll meet

• Mina Halfin Levi: Wife of prominent local businessman and civic leader Abraham Levi. Mina was the matriarch of a large and distinguished family who were pillars of Victoria's Jewish community.

• Alfred Brown Peticolas: A true renaissance man in Victoria's history. Penticolas was an attorney, confederate veteran and artists of some note. Perhaps he is best known for his Civil War journals and detailed pencil sketches of early landmarks in Victoria.

• Major George Washington Lafayette Fly: Major Fly, a mason, Confederate Army officer, Texas legislator and regionally noted orator was a dashing figure indeed. Following action in some of The War's most famous battles, Fly was named commandant of Galveston.

• George Otto Herold Von Roedern: Quite the mystery man in his day, rumors abounded as to his origins (perhaps he started some of the rumors himself for fun). Upon his death the local United Daughters of the Confederacy chapter saw to it that he had a proper burial in the Confederate plot in Evergreen Cemetery - even though he was a Union veteran.

• Frank Polka Jr.:A deputy marshal and justice of the peace, Polka was also superintendent of the country poor farm for a time. He was the son of German immigrant and Confederate veteran Frank Polka Sr.

• William J. Craig: A native of Mississippi, Craig arrived in Victoria with his mother and siblings in 1849 at the age of seven. At one time, he was the toll-keeper of the Guadalupe River Bridge. As a Confederate veteran, railroad man and mayor, Craig was a well-respected member of the community.

• Mary Randall Heaton: Mary and her husband, Civil War veteran and successful area merchant Lorenzo Dow Heaton, prospered in the years following The Civil War. The home they shared still stands on South Bridge Street.

• Columbus Lafayette "Zip" Thurmond: Zip, a native of Tennessee, came to Victoria early in life. Throughout his life he served as County Treasurer, tax assessor and collector, County Clerk and sheriff. He also worked in Jesse Obadiah Wheeler's store before going into business for himself.

• George Overton Stoner: Confederate veteran, member of a prominent family and local icon of his day, the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans is named in his honor.

• Susan McCrae Phillips: The McCrae family moved from Florida to Copano Bay in 1836. Susan married Alexander Hamilton Phillips and they had a grand home erected. The historic Phillips House still stands as a testament to the era.

• C.A. Leuschner: Charles August Leuschner came to Texas from Germany with his parents in 1855. Along with being a Confederate veteran he was a trail driver, barber, city alderman, member of the city band and Victoria County Treasurer for 29 years.

• Alvina Glockzahn: Member of a pioneer German family in Victoria, she and husband Herman Zahn lived in the home on De Leon St. that bears their name beginning in 1860.

Source: Victoria Preservation Inc.

The city I grew up in was haunted. No lies.

The Bloody Mary apparition appeared in the bathroom of my elementary school, deranged characters such as Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers and the masked killer from the "Scream" series have all roamed the streets, and then there's the haunted Sierra Madre Pioneer Cemetery.

Beyond housing the remains of Civil War veterans such as John Richardson and doubling as the fictional Barlow Creek Cemetery from Alfred Hitchcock's 1976 thriller "Family Plot," it's obvious why Hollywood loved using this location to scare its audience. Raised high above the street, the cemetery sits on rolling hills, is decorated by trees made for horror films and is closed in by an Adam's Family-esque metal gate and rock-lined walls.

Spooky.

Needless to say, I never went there and sadly missed out on a whole lot of my town's history. Luckily, that does not have to be a case in my new stomping grounds.

Victoria Preservation Inc. is resurrecting 12 bodies this weekend in celebration of the Civil War Sesquicentennial. The 10th annual tour of the Evergreen Cemetery on Vine Street will highlight some familiar and some not-so-familiar faces, such as Confederate veteran George Overton Stoner and Mary Randall Heaton, whose home still stands on South Bridge Street.



Pre-Civil War Victoria was lined with dirt roads, horses roamed freely and every building was constructed of wood.

Victoria was a mecca of history around the Civil War.

"It's really an era that doesn't receive enough attention," said Jeff Wright, executive director of Victoria Preservation, Inc.

This is the first year Wright's been in charge of putting the cemetery tour together and said he's had quite an interesting time uncovering the city's past.

Wright, who received a bachelor's degree in history from McMurry University in Abilene and then went on to get a master's in library and information science, said he's always had an appreciation for research, and thanks to city archives, including those of the Victoria Advocate that date back to 1846, investigating the characters for this year's tour wasn't an impossible task.

The Advocate put a lot more dirt in people's obituaries back then, he said, so it really helped further develop some of the stories.



Wright found himself identifying with different aspects from each character's story and said each person became a part of him.

As in the past, tickets for the VPI Cemetery Tour are sold in advance only. With five locations selling tickets in Victoria, there's no excuse for you not to buy tickets to the tour. Bring a coat because it might be cold standing in the Evergreen Cemetery.

I don't know about you, but there is no way I'm missing out on a history lesson from a bunch of dead people, so while you read this article, I'll be skipping to the box office to purchase a spot on Saturday's tour.

See you at the gravestone.

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