Victoria Preservation Inc.: Come out, learn Victoria's history in cemetery
By BY JEFF WRIGHT
Oct. 24, 2013 at 5:24 a.m.
It's that time again, folks. No, not Halloween. No, not Christmas; although judging by the decorations in local retail establishments, you would think it was mid-December.
What time is it then? Why, it's Cemetery Tour time. This Friday and Saturday, you can witness history as told by those who lived it. Victoria Preservation Inc. puts on this annual treat as a way of preserving and promoting Victoria's rich history. We are proud to say that this is our 10th year to bring the event to the community. Tickets have sold out the past several years, and it's not just locals who attend. It's great that the popularity of the event has spread throughout the region.
The individuals portrayed during the event are real people, not fictional characters. You will visit them at their actual gravesites. Meticulous research is done to ensure that the information presented is historically accurate as well as entertaining. Moreover, you just can't make some of this stuff up. Some of these stories are better than anything you would read in a Hollywood screenplay. Some characters are well-known or come from well-known families. Others are probably people you've never heard of. That's part of what makes it so interesting. For instance, Alvina Glock Zahn is one of our characters this year. Anyone following the local preservation news will note that she and husband, Herman, are the namesakes of the historic Zahn House.
Because we are in the sesquicentennial years of the Civil War, it is appropriate to pay homage to those who lived during that era in our history. We have a very interesting mix of characters with stories to match. Men, women, veterans (both Confederate and Union) and noncombatants feature this year. The 12 individuals selected will transport you to the past. This year, you will meet Mina Halfin Levi, A.B. Peticolas, G.W.L. Fly, Otto Von Roedern, Frank Polka Jr., William J. Craig, Mary Randall Heaton, C.L. Thurmond, G.O. Stoner, Susan McCrae Phillips, C.A. Leuschner and Alvina Glock Zahn. All of these individuals left their mark on Victoria, and our actors are passionate about their characters.
Many of the history buffs reading this already know that we are celebrating the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Civil War. That conflict is considered by many to be the most devastating event in American history. Victoria was not immune to the effects of war. Many local men marched or rode off to war - many never to return. Wives and children were left to fend for themselves, scrounging together whatever they could from the meager resources available. People lived with the daily agony of the unknown. Families were torn asunder with brother fighting against brother. Epidemic diseases were pervasive. Livelihoods were destroyed. There are so many interesting and harrowing tales from this era. With this in mind, we decided to take a glimpse back to the mid-1800s and choose characters for this tour who lived through that harrowing time.
Even the history of the cemetery itself is interesting. Just a snippet will be related here. Historic Evergreen Cemetery came into use during the 1850s. It was not, however, the first public cemetery in Victoria. That distinction belongs to Memorial Square. As was the custom of the day, early Victorians practiced home burials. In 1846, the City Council passed an ordinance outlawing home burials and designating Memorial Square as the community cemetery. This section of land was not able to keep up with demand, and a new location was sought. A new site north of town was chosen. That site, now Evergreen Cemetery, is far from out of town these days. Along with new burials, many bodies from Memorial Square were reinterred at Evergreen. As you walk from gravesite to gravesite, you can't help but appreciate the significance of this place.
Speaking of walking, wear comfortable shoes to the cemetery. Also, dress in layers because who knows? We may get some cold weather for the tour. Check our website, vpitx.com, or call the office at 573-1878 for details.
Education and advocacy are key components to VPI's mission, and as a nonprofit organization, we rely on memberships and fundraising to sustain our activities. So come out to Evergreen Cemetery and pay your respects. It's for a great cause. We look forward to seeing you. You'll have a great time.
Jeff Wright is the executive director of Victoria Preservation Inc. He is a native of Victoria and holds a bachelor's of history and Master of Library and Information Science degrees. In addition to being the Victoria County heritage director, he serves on the Victoria County Historical Commission and on the boards of the Victoria Main Street Program and Victoria County Genealogical Society.