By Anne McKee
This last week in October it seemed appropriate to offer a Rose Hill Historic Cemetery/Meridian treasure update. So, what is there to update about a place of the dead? If it’s Rose Hill, then there’s plenty to report and update.
Just this week two tour buses from Arkansas, Texas, and Louisiana stopped to hear a few Rose Hill inspired stories. The stories are always fresh and new even though they are events of the past – present day visitors are always interested.
The bus tour, planned by Meridianite Rick Courtney, first visited the beautiful Temple Theatre on Tuesday evening, and started the attendees’ day on Wednesday in Rose Hill Cemetery — then continued to The Carousel House, Highland Park, Jimmie Rodgers Museum, Merrehope, F.W. Williams home, and finally a fantastic barbecue at Circle K Ranch. Congratulations to Rick and everyone who worked to showcase Meridian and our treasures.
I must say Meridian has many treasures and one of the most valued is Rose Hill Historic Cemetery — a Victorian cemetery, but then, I am partial since I seem to hang out there a great deal, still on the green side I am happy to report.
It can never be over-emphasized the amazing fact that during the late 1980s we almost lost Rose Hill Cemetery to debris and overgrown trees and weeds, but by the sweat of the brow and determination by many, the cemetery was saved and the graves again documented for accuracy.
It was a team of dedicated Meridianites, led by Rose Hill Cemetery Director Walton Moore, who led the charge, plus many, many additional workers. Therefore, we continue to enjoy a chunk of Meridian history represented by Rose Hill Cemetery – not the entire history of Meridian, but a great deal is there.
Now I must offer a report pertaining to the annual Rose Hill Historic Cemetery Tour.
First, I must thank all of the amazingly dedicated tour attendees who came out on Sept. 29 for the third annual costumed tour. As you might remember, the weather forecast was horrid — possible storms, 70 percent chance of showers. Hmm, hmm – not good for an outside event, but the people came anyway! What a gutsy crowd – umbrellas in hand and excitement stamped upon their faces. It was estimated that 750 to 1,000 people walked the tour that night. Quickly, I must add – the heavy rains held out until after 10 p.m. at which time the tour had concluded. We only experienced occasional light showers between 5 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
You see as the afternoon of Sept. 29 progressed, and the clouds hung heavily throughout our area, the tour planners seriously considered canceling the event, but I gotta tell you, that would have been a huge mistake. As Richard Whitehead, assistant Rose Hill Cemetery director stated, “You cancel and we’ll have mutiny on our hands.”
Richard was exactly right – attendees began to gather at the cemetery front gate at 4:30 p.m. We made the decision to start earlier than planned because of the long line waiting and impending rain; therefore we started the tour at 5:10 p.m. rather than the previously announced 6 p.m. Richard and the tour guides at the front gate gathered 25 people per group and alternated them to the right and also to the left; therefore the tour moved faster.
All of this said … The Rose Hill Company of Players was at their appointed positions by 5:15 p.m. — willing and ready to present their featured parts. I mean no one – not a single player — wanted to cancel. Go on with the show was the cry of the evening.
We are thankful for many things: the rain held until after the tour; our attendees were represented by all ages; there were no problems in the cemetery; we taught a great deal of the history and heritage of Meridian and Mississippi through the arts of storytelling and drama; we have the most dedicated team of players and tour guides on God’s Green Earth; we have a generous media community (local and statewide), TV, radio, newspapers, statewide publications, online publications, and the magic of the word-of-mouth that filtered throughout the state.
For the third year, Lauderdale County History and Archives assisted with any needed research. Director Ward Calhoun and Archives desktop publisher Leslie Joyner were essential as they tracked down long lost records. The players of Rose Hill Company literally jumped into their parts defining and refining the personages they represented – making certain the lives of these long ago personalities were represented clearly and accurately.
For the second year, Burch & Hatfield and Dead Gypsy QCG Costume Designs donated their time and costumes for the tour. Again this year, Bill Arlinghaus and his crew from Magnolia Cemetery offered much assistance in many ways. Also, this year Lowe’s helped with the purchase of large lanterns, shepherds' hooks and candles for each gravesite featured. For the third year Mayor Cheri Barry and the city of Meridian dedicated themselves to assist with our efforts. We are thankful as well for the willingness of the Rose Hill Cemetery owners, the Benevolent Fund, Inc., and the Masonic organization for allowing a costumed tour – all greatly appreciated.
Community working together is a beautiful thing.
Possibly our attendee dedication continued because we start the planning early and carry it through until tour time, and yes, we have already begun making plans for the 2013 tour. Stay tuned for the date and details. “Like” us (The Rose Hill Company on Facebook) for the latest information. Community working together is vital. For all of this, we are thankful.
One more thing … if you missed this year’s tour, an awesome DVD recorded each performance so perfectly that you will think you were in the midst of it all. It is produced by P. Williams Productions and may be purchased in the Magnolia Cemetery Office, phone number (601) 483-4225, for $15. It is a perfect gift for relatives or former Meridianites.
Meridian treasures – I encourage you to visit often, offer your support, and tell others. They are just too good to keep to ourselves.
Anne B. McKee is a writer and storyteller. Visit her website at www.annemckee.net.