Tacoma’s history comes alive during graveyard tour

The late James Wickersham addressed a crowd atop his grave at the Tacoma Cemetery on Friday night.

Wickersham had not returned from the dead. In his place was Patrick Haas, a living history actor with the Fort Nisqually Time Travelers.

The performance was part of the sixth annual Living History Cemetery Tour, which will continue Saturday.

The tour is a collaboration of the Tacoma Cemetery, Tacoma Historical Society and Fort Nisqually Foundation.

Tour guides escort participants through the cemetery, stopping at the graves of notable Tacoma citizens where in-character actors describe their lives and legacy.

Christopher Engh, an organizer and caretaker at the cemetery, said about 300 people are expected to attend the sold-out, two-day event.

The Fort Nisqually Time Travelers is a group of living history actors who research notable Tacoma citizens and portray them at living cemetery tours. The all-volunteer group is committed to sharing their love and knowledge of Tacoma history, said Melissa McGinnis, an event organizer.

Although many of the cast members have years of experience, Gloria Ricketts performed for the first time Friday, portraying Tacoma educator Jennie Reed.

Reed came to Tacoma in 1910 and went on to become a prominent teacher and principal in the Tacoma area.

Reed received her doctorate from the University of Washington by taking weekend classes and started the first educational research department in Tacoma history, Ricketts said.

Ricketts said she was inspired by Reed’s legacy and her dedication to Tacoma students.

“Jennie Reed seems like a person I would have liked to have known,” Ricketts said. “I identify with this woman.”

Joseph Govednik, an actor in the tour, said the event offers a new way for people to experience and learn about Tacoma’s fascinating history.

“It’s academic like reading a book, but it’s entertaining like watching TV,” he said. “I just find a richness about Tacoma that I haven’t found anywhere else.”

McGinnis said the tour features a variety of past Tacoma citizens, from powerful politicians to everyday people.

Lyn Hooker, a group leader at the event, said she learns something new every year from the event and recommends it for anyone wanting to know more about Tacoma’s history.

“It’s a wonderful event,” she said.

The actors often spend months researching their historic figures in preparation for the role, often seeking the records at the Northwest Room at the Tacoma Public Library for help.

Haas said it’s a challenge to fit a whole lifetime of information into a five-minute performance.

For history buffs like Govednik, the tour offers an opportunity to share his love with the community.

“It’s just really a lot of fun, it’s a really unique experience,” he said.