Stories of local people told in first person during the June 21 event

The yearly Cemetery Saga at Champoeg State Heritage Area isn’t meant to be spooky, although the event puts faces to those buried in two historical cemeteries. by: GARY ALLEN - History in action - The Cemetery Saga on Summer Solstice will introduce visitors to eight historical figures during a June 21 tour of graves at several local cemeteries, including the pioneer cemetery in St. Paul.

“Folks just really, really like it. It gives us a chance to put faces to history and actually introduce people to some of these luminaries,” said Dan Klug, park ranger.

The saga takes tour groups to Butteville and St. Paul where they will be introduced to a handful of people buried at the cemeteries.

“It makes you feel like those people are there talking to you,” Klug said.

Portrayed in the first person, each year has a theme. This year the eight characters are health themed with the subject “Healing on the French Prairie.” But organizers Donna and Mark Hinds said first person isn’t typically used in presentations at the park.

“They get a script and history but they make it their own and it’s delightful to hear year after year as different actors bring a different persona to that person,” Donna Hinds said. “It could be called a mobile theater, what we’re doing.”

The eight characters this year include three doctors, a female nurse and a midwife. There are also two Métis, men with both French and Native American heritage, and a tale of one of them who set his own leg after it was broken.

“In a barn, with a pulley,” Mark Hinds said.

In its fourth year, he said events like these occur all across the county, so they decided to bring it to Champoeg.

“It was just a really popular event and people really enjoy it,” he said.

There will be three or four tours June 21, depending on how full the buses get.

“If we are close to filling the third, then we go to the fourth one,” he said. Each holds 25 to 27 people, which he said it just the right amount for an event like this. “It’s small enough that one person out in the open can still talk to them.”

The saga is held specifically on the Summer Solstice.

“We chose to do it on the summer solstice because it’s light the longest and safest to walk in the cemetery,” Donna Hinds said. “The other alternative was to do it during the bright, sunshiny day but the twilight hour is very nice.”

She added that in some places, it has a more spiritual focus, but that didn’t meet the goals they had for the event.

“When we established it we knew there were stories being lost here on the French Prairie,” she said. “We have lot of people who are related to the people we do. It’s kind of fun calling people on the phone saying we’re doing your family this year. A lot of the time they don’t know the stories we’ve managed to unearth.”

After the historical tour, all groups will join at the Donald Manson barn for strawberry shortcake and live music. Donna Hinds said there will also be photographs of the actual people visitors learned about throughout the barn.

Tickets are $20 and reservations are required. The event runs from 3 to 5 p.m. To purchase tickets, call 503-678-1251 ext. 221.

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