Community members will come face-to-face with some of San Luis Obispo’s most prominent pioneers Saturday at the San Luis Cemetery.
Actors will portray significant figures from the city’s past at “SLO Souls: Meet the Eternal Residents of San Luis Obispo,” a new living history event organized by the History Center of San Luis Obispo County. In many cases, they’ll be stationed near the actual graves where their real-life counterparts are buried.
“Just walking through the cemetery and talking to these people and having them tell their stories, it makes (historical figures) more real to people,” said Jill Fletcher, museum manager at the History Center.
“When they read about history, it’s hard to picture an actual person. It’s all facts and figures,” she said, adding that “SLO Souls” “basically brings history to life.”
According to Fletcher, “SLO Souls” is modeled after “Meet the Spirits,” a popular biannual event in Boulder, Colo.
Like that one, Saturday’s event aims “to get people involved in the history of the area in a way that’s more entertaining than listening to a lecture,” she said.
Eighteen volunteers will be stationed throughout San Luis Cemetery west of Elks Lane, across the street from the mausoleum. Clad in everything from hoopskirts, shawls and bonnets to frockcoats and striped trousers, they’ll answer visitors’ questions and chat about their past lives as community leaders.
History Center curator Eva Ulz assisted with costuming the group, while archivist and historian Joseph Carotenuti helped the actors with their historical research. He’s also created a brochure about San Luis Obispo’s cemeteries.
“They are all important to our primary history,” said Carotenuti, who volunteers with the History Center.
Although some of Saturday’s participants are seasoned historical re-enactors, others are simply history buffs.
San Luis Obispo attorney Robert Bettencourt said he jumped at the chance to play Walter Murray, the English-born attorney, editor, judge and legislator who founded The Tribune in 1869. He described Murray, a Mexican-American War veteran who worked the gold fields before coming to San Luis Obispo, as a “personal hero of mine.”
“It took men of intelligence and vigor to stand up and make things happen, and Walter Murray was one of them,” said Bettencourt, historian and past president of San Luis Obispo’s Masonic Lodge. “That guy was just fascinating.” (He has portrayed Murray for past Masonic events.)
History Center volunteer Julie Moore, who will portray local businesswoman and politician Queenie Warden, was drawn to the one-time mayoral candidate’s dedication to women’s suffrage.
“She was an amazing woman,” Moore said of Warden, the namesake of the Warden Bridge in downtown San Luis Obispo.
DeeDee Mulliner said her love of historical costuming inspired her to portray Jeannette Sinsheimer, part of the prominent Sinsheimer merchant family.
“When you spend all the time and energy making fabulous clothing, you want to wear (it) somewhere,” said Mulliner, a Jack House docent who enjoys dressing in period outfits to join her friends for tea. “You want to be seen.”
If you go
"SLO Souls: Meet the Eternal Residents of San Luis Obispo” takes place 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at San Luis Cemetery, 2890 S. Higuera St. in San Luis Obispo.
The living history event, which includes a Masonic consecration ritual at 11:30 a.m., is sponsored by King David’s Masonic Lodge No. 209, Wheeler-Smith Mortuary and Crematory and Reis Family Mortuary and Crematory, which will bring its antique hearse.
Admission is $12, with all proceeds benefiting the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.