Photo: Mike Beacham portrays Mike Foster during the 2016 A Walk Through Time event. In this year’s event, Beacham will portray Bob Higgins (1850-1894). (Messenger file photo)
By Emma Kirkemier, News Editor
The 13th annual Walk Through Time event will be held in Forrest Cemetery this Sunday, October 16 from 2 to 5 p.m.
Presentations will feature 53 unique characters buried in Forrest Cemetery, including a dozen new entries, who will each tell their life story to graveside visitors. Characters will also rotate through the cemetery chapel, presenting to those with limited mobility or who do not wish to visit the cemetery plots.
According to longtime program participant and sponsor Pudden McArthur, 14 of these characters will be portrayed by their descendants, a point of pride for the program that distinguishes it from some other cemetery strolls.
“What I really like about ours is we try to get as many descendants as we can,” McArthur said.
Descendants honor parents, grandparents and other relatives who have passed by reliving their memories before local witnesses. Shaun Malone, a new participant this year, will be portraying his father, the late Dan Richard Malone (1938-2006). Hal Isbell will be playing local businessman Gordon Isbell, Jr. (1923-2011).
A Walk Through Time is sponsored by numerous groups and individuals, including the City of Gadsden. Program directors reach out to each individual’s family to obtain consent to portray their deceased loved ones.
McArthur explained that when contacting relatives, descendants are offered the first opportunity to play their kinfolk. If they choose not to become a portrayer for the program — or even if they do — the family is given an opportunity to preview and critique the script, which is written by A Walk Through Time and provided to performers.
Many portrayers are prominent community members, including lawyers and teachers who are comfortable with public speaking. According to McArthur, presentations must be five minutes or less. Some groups were “stuck” at their stations the first few years, she explained, and were unable to visit many other characters.
It is impossible to visit all 53 characters in the span of three hours, so McArthur advised attendees to plan ahead and pick a few favorites. The ones they miss may be available the following year.
“There has to be a story,” said Walk Through Time participant Susan Copeland. “That, to me, is an important thing about this.”
Portrayed characters are researched and chosen by A Walk Through Time, and the chief criteria is not whether they were important or well-known but whether they had an interesting story to tell. While many of these figures are recently deceased, their life stories illuminated by those who knew them, there are a few who passed 50 or 100 years ago or more.
A Walk Through time provides a flyer with a list of characters and short descriptions. Many are straightforward, for example the late Hazel Brannon Smith (1914-1994), “Gadsden’s Pulitzer Prize winner,” but there are other, more cryptic descriptions, like that of June Moore Bugg (1919-1993) which simply reads, “This one won’t crawl on you.” One just as intriguing is the epigraph for Bob Higgins (1850-1894): “It wasn’t his fault.”
Portrayers don full period clothing and bring numerous props. Some even haul furniture to their place in the cemetery.
Copeland said she remembers one scene that was “almost like a living room.”
“When this started in 2009, my life changed,” McArthur said. “I met some people I would not have met otherwise.”
A Walk Through Time not only honors the past but contributes to the future of Forrest Cemetery. The event is free to attend, but the organization accepts donations and has raised over $80,000 for the Forrest Cemetery Foundation during its 13-year tenure. Its funds helped to renovate the chapel roof and, later, renovate and build sidewalks to the cemetery comfort station, which includes the only handicap-accessible bathrooms on the property.
Though presentations are accessible in the chapel to those with impaired mobility, there will also be a few golf carts at the event to assist attendees.
McArthur thanked sponsors of the event, which provide most of the funding for its donations, and the Gadsden City High School students who assist with the event each year.
“We have some helpers who are the best helpers on the face of the earth, and it’s the Gadsden City High School Titan Ambassadors,” McArthur said. “We could not do this without them.”