If you like history, cemeteries, and performance art, then you’ll want to head to Greenwood Cemetery this Sunday, Sept. 24 for the return of the Friends of Wheeling’s cemetery tour. Volunteers dressed in period-appropriate clothing will tell the stories of several notable people from Wheeling’s past through first-person presentations.
The Friends of Wheeling, West Virginia’s oldest historic preservation organization, has hosted cemetery tours periodically since 1991. Several prominent Wheelingites are interred at Greenwood Cemetery, making it the ideal location for such an event. “Most of our tours have been in Greenwood Cemetery,” according to Jeanne Finstein, Friends of Wheeling Board Member. “However, we have also had tours in Mt. Wood and Stone Church Cemeteries, too.”
As a city with such a rich city, it can be difficult to decide who to highlight on the tour. “We try to find people with interesting histories. The characters we select are those who have made Wheeling an important, vibrant city, along with a few who were a part of the inevitable scandals of their times,” Jeanne said. “We hope visitors learn something new and leave with an appreciation of Wheeling’s past.”
So, which noteworthy Wheelingites can you expect to “meet” at Greenwood Cemetery this Sunday? The Friends of Wheeling gave us a sneak peek:
Brewing Rivals and Savvy Businessmen
Rival brewers Anton Reymann (portrayed by Dave Barnett) and Henry Schmulbach (portrayed by Hal Gorby) will relate the individual lives and accomplishments of these two very different men who were contemporaries in time and occupation but very different in lifestyles. Two other successful businessmen on the tour will be Jacob Thomas and Hanson Waddell. Thomas (portrayed by Kenny Sexton) was the brother-in-law and business partner of Elijah Stone in founding the iconic Wheeling Stone & Thomas Department Store. His grave marker is one of the largest in the cemetery. Waddell (portrayed by his great-grandson Jay Frey) was an innovative glass industry executive whose marker is more modest.
Two doctors will be featured – Dr. John Eoff and Dr. John Frissell. Eoff (portrayed by Greg Smith) was perhaps the first medically trained doctor in Wheeling, while Frissell (portrayed by Dr. Jim Comerci) was one of the founders of Wheeling Hospital and served as medical superintendent of the military prisoners held in Wheeling during the Civil War. Dr. Eoff’s great-granddaughter Helen Tallman (portrayed by Rachel Lewis), a young victim of tuberculosis, rests near his gravesite in a beautiful Victorian-style family mausoleum. Wheeling native Thomas Norton (portrayed by Steve Suhler) served in the Union Army during the Civil War and was later military mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, during Reconstruction. His uncle, Edward Norton, is an ancestor of the Hollywood actor of the same name.
Women Who Broke Barriers
In the early 1900s, Ruth Woods (portrayed by Gael Fincham) and her son George divided the large Woods farm into building lots, resulting in the communities of Woodsdale and around Hamilton Avenue – which was named for another son. Around the same time, Henrietta Romine (portrayed by Jenn Lewis) was helping organize the Wheeling Symphony and played a very active role in the Woman Suffrage movement.
Judi Hendrickson will portray artist Edith Lake Wilkinson, a Wheeling native whose artwork was featured in an HBO special “Packed in a Trunk.” Wilkinson spent time in a mental institution until her estate was reportedly embezzled by lawyer George Rogers. Many of her paintings were later found – packed in a trunk and largely forgotten. Jeanne Finstein will portray Rogers’ wife, Clara Rogers, who, following her husband’s scandal and bankruptcy, left their privileged lifestyle to work at West Liberty State College. She rose to become Dean of Women, and Rogers Hall dormitory was named in her honor.
This tour is the latest in a series of similar tours offered by Friends of Wheeling, the local historic preservation organization. These highly-anticipated tours typically attract several hundred people to the one-day event. All ages are welcome and encouraged to attend as interesting parts of Wheeling’s history are dramatized.
The Friends of Wheeling Greenwood Cemetery Tour will begin at 1 p.m. and run continuously throughout the afternoon. The last tour will begin at 4:15 p.m. Parking is available at Wheeling Park, where Kepner and Altmeyer funeral home limousines will transport visitors to and from the cemetery.
About Friends of Wheeling
The Friends of Wheeling is a non-profit volunteer organization formed in 1970 by local residents who strongly believe in the preservation of Wheeling’s architectural and cultural heritage. Over the years, Friends of Wheeling has been involved in numerous projects that have brought an awareness of preservation to the community. They regularly host property tours of Wheeling’s historic buildings and have established the Preservation Loan Guarantee Fund to encourage preservation projects by providing access to low-interest-rate loans. Learn more about Friends of Wheeling and find out how you can get involved with their work by following them on Facebook, or by visiting wheelingheritage.org/friends-of-wheeling.