Kids to solve mysteries, learn history at Park Cemetery

MARQUETTE – The Marquette Regional History Center will hold a free interactive program called Tombstone Detectives for children of all ages at Park Cemetery in Marquette from 1 to 3 p.m. Thursday.

The first hour will consist of a guided tour through the cemetery, where four costumed actors will play local historical figures and tell their stories beside their tombstones. During the second hour, hands-on activities will allow children to become detectives, using clues to unravel the stories of people that came before them. They’ll also create art from tombstone rubbings.

Rosemary Michelin, librarian at the MRHC who came up with the idea, said they’ve offered guided cemetery walks for nine years, but this is the second year the center has had the children’s program, the first being in 2012.

“The characters come alive,” Michelin said. “We wanted children to be able to learn about interesting people from Marquette, so we picked people who had interesting stories and occupations.”

The figures include ship Capt. William G. Cole; Edward Watson, a civil war soldier who will read an authentic letter of his from the time; Ellen Harlow Clark, who arrived in Marquette as a young pioneer; and writer and composer Will Adams, who is also the subject of an original play, “WILLpower,” produced by the MRHC and written by local playwright Tyler Tichelar.

“We’re hoping they’ll think the cemetery is a really interesting place to learn about people, and so not be afraid that it’s a spooky place,” Michelin said. “We try to downplay the finality of death …(We hope) that they’ll find interesting stories and think, ‘I might want to write a paper about this or learn more about that person.’ So education but also entertainment are factors.”

Museum educator Betsy Rutz said the MRHC has been around for 96 years and sponsors numerous educational programs throughout the community.

“I’ve been coordinating with all the role payers,” she said. “They do their own research and they’re all volunteers at the museum – three students and one retired man.”

She said MRHC staff will meet kids, parents and grandparents at the main gate and lead them, not only to where role-players will speak, but other places of historical interest too, like the vault beside the lilly pond.

“It ends with a little bit of a scary story at the very end,” Rutz said. “It’s definitely all-ages, but especially for kids 5 and up. The little littles might not really get it, but they can participate too.”

Marquette actor Andrew van Welsenaers will play Will Adams at the cemetery event on Thursday, as well as in the play “WILLpower” on Sept. 18 and 19 at Kaufman Auditorium.

“(Tombstone Detectives) is fantastic, because this is Marquette history,” he said. “It’s the reason why everything in the town looks like it does, and it’s important for kids to know why things are the way they are.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.