Tales of the dead

Patti Garro will be portraying Maria Wicks during the 2018 Cemetery Walk. submitted photo

by Ariana Hones

A reprinted 1938 cookbook, milk bottle caps, chocolate bars and a walk through a cemetery.

The connection lies in Princeton.

The city of Princeton, with high hopes to continue four years of restoration efforts on its cemetery, is readying itself for the second-annual Cemetery Walking Tour, which will be held Saturday, Aug. 25.

This fund-raising effort works in tandem with the purchasing of a reproduction of the 1938 Band Mother’s Cookbook, bringing in milk caps and buying chocolate bars at the city of Princeton office.

Why take the walk?

“We have retaining walls that need repair, cleaning solution that takes care of aging gravestones and general costs associated with paying proper respect to the Princeton cemetery,” Princeton City Administrator Mary Lou Neubauer said.

“We have gravestones from the 1700s and the families aren’t around here anymore or they are too old,” added Cheryle Nickel, city of Princeton executive assistant. “We have things that are being fixed and it comes with a cost.”

The idea for a Cemetery Walk to help with these expenses came to Nickel when she was watching TV.

“I saw [a cemetery tour] that was happening on the news and I found some volunteers to be actors and I was the tour guide,” the executive assistant said. We had a practice night in August and then our first walk last year.”

Nickel was amazed by the interest the event garnered.

“It was raining, but we still had 150 people come — it was a surprise,” she said.

Continuing the tradition set last year, the 2018 Cemetery Walk will consist of 12 stories of local people who are buried in the Princeton Cemetery.

Two people are even portraying their relatives.

Each year, Nickel uses research from sites such as Ancestry and Find A Grave to create a historical blueprint for each of the deceased.

Each person’s grave and corresponding story is found with a bit of luck, she said, as not everyone in the cemetery has such a well-documented digital history.

It is then up to the actor to compile a 3- to 5-minute story about that person and tell the walkers about their lives using first-person narrative.

Donning time-appropriate apparel and props, each actor works to connect the name on a gravestone to the person buried beneath.

“One participating walker last year said it was the best thing they ever saw in Princeton,” Neubauer said. “The walking tour gets people initially interested and then they see what is being done at the cemetery for restoration efforts. It brings people back to the community that used to live here or have a relative buried here. Some people last year even knew the people being portrayed.”


This hour-long historical tour pays homage to citizens and tells the story of Princeton people, regardless of their prominence when living.

Such as the significance behind the 7-foot tall statue in the cemetery.

“There is a beautiful statue of a woman in the Princeton Cemetery,” Neubauer said. “The story behind it is of a woman who was divorced, which was unheard of at the time, and yet she had this incredible statue marking her grave.”

Part of work of Neubauer and Nickel is to uncover the meaning behind notable cemetery fixtures.

Stories also will expand beyond the gates of the cemetery to connect back to local landmarks and people, such as one deceased woman’s connection to a current local business or a real-life minister portraying a deceased minister.

“It is for all ages to remember these stories because it is our history and our people,” Nickel said.

The walk will start Aug. 25 at 1:30 p.m. and participants should be conscientious of the graves they’re walking near and wear shoes suitable for walking on uneven ground.

Cost for the walk is $5 and proceeds go to the restoration of the history-rich cemetery.

The Cemetery Walk brings history alive for one day a year in Princeton.

Every other day the Cemetery Walk works to preserve it.