“Some people expect us to be chasing them out of the graveyard with a chain saw or something, but it’s not that kind of thing at all,” says Voices of Elmwood Director Todd Reynolds. Yes, it’s held in a cemetery, but Voices of Elmwood is not about scaring you to death; instead it’s about bringing history to life as actors portray people from our region’s past.
Each year, a dedicated team of volunteers research, script, and then animate 10 stories of local people who now rest at Rosehill – Elmwood Cemetery on Old Hartford Road. Patrons take wagon rides through the cemetery as period-dressed re-enactors portray the individuals and tell their stories at stops along the way.
“Everybody has a story,” Reynolds explains. “So Voices of Elmwood is a way to tell some interesting stories about people from Owensboro’s history that have been handed down from one generation to the next.”
Owensboro Museum of Science and History CEO Kathy Olson says it actually goes much deeper than storytelling. “You do hear about these people’s lives, but you also hear about the fabric of our community. It’s a tribute to the greatness in all of us. We all have gifts. These people all lived in Owensboro. They were active citizens who tried to make Owensboro a better place to live, just like we are today. This community has always been full of people committed to making Owensboro better.”
Along the tour, Reynolds says people will hear family names that are familiar to most Owensboro residents, but some of his favorite Elmwood stories are about people that most of us have never heard of.
People like “Uncle” George Allen, who was a flatboat operator and a stage coach driver. He also worked in the circus at one point and lived sort of a gypsy kind of life. As luck would have it, the newspaper did a story on him the day before died, so that’s how we know what we do about him. He was born in the mid 1800s while his parents were on an ocean liner coming over from Ireland. He died on Thanksgiving night while he was night watchmen on the floating mercantile downtown. So Uncle George Allen had the distinction of being born on a boat and later dying on a boat.
A.J. Courtney was another colorful character. He became the unofficial mayor of “Huntersville,” which is what the part of town at 18th & Breckenridge was known as in the late 1800s. In those days it had a bit of a rough reputation. A.J. used to make and sell moonshine they called “Courtney’s Mule” on the street because it packed quite a kick.
But Reynold’s personal favorite story is about Thruston Cabell, who grew up a slave just before the Civil War. Cabell was sold as a child, taken away from his mother, and sent to Kentucky to work in tobacco fields. During the Civil War, he simply walked away from the farm, crossed the Ohio River, and joined the Union Army. After the war he came back to Owensboro and worked at a bank. It took him a long time, but he eventually learned that his mother was in Virginia and they were finally reunited when Thruston was in his 60s and his mother was in her 80s.
These stories from past years are just a taste of what you’ll experience at Voices of Elmwood. Come this year and you can hear 10 brand new stories. Tickets are $15 per person and can be ordered over the phone by calling 270-687-2732 or purchased at the Museum of Science and History’s reception desk.