Days Gone By: Candlelight Cemetery Tour

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By: Ryan Baker

Well, it’s that time of year again. The muggy summer days and nights give way to cooler temps and crisp air. Yes, fall is right around the corner, folks. One thing that I love about living in Tennessee is that just when you think that summer or winter will never end, the next season rolls right on in. On Friday, September 22nd, my favorite season – fall – does just that. This means that it is time for high school football, bonfires, s’mores and one of my favorite events, the Candlelight Cemetery Tour.

The Gallatin City Cemetery has been referred to by local historian Ken Thomson as ‘‘our city of silence.’’ The cemetery is home to old-fashioned tombstones and towering memorials, which date back to 1818. Many of the county’s most fascinating characters ended up there. The first person buried there was Neal McAuley, an Irish immigrant. Since, the cemetery has been filled with hundreds of Sumner County citizen’s tombstones, some known, others unknown, each with their own unique story.

Now, once a year, on the first Saturday in October, the cemetery breaks its silence. In 1997, former Sumner County Museum Director, Donna Smith came up with idea for the tour, and it has happened ever since, making this the twenty-first Candlelight Cemetery Tour.

The tour follows the Main Street Festival that takes place on Gallatin’s historic square. The festival hosts more than two hundred arts, crafts, nonprofit and commercial vendors. Local entertainers perform throughout the day on two stages. There is also a large children’s area and plenty of food vendors as well.

As this event ends, the cemetery tours begin just a couple blocks away. Starting at 4pm, guests are met by a greeter who starts you on your way. A guide will take you from gravesite to gravesite on a path lit only by luminaries. At each stop you will hear stories told by actors in period attire, portraying those who are no longer among us.

A few of those portrayed in years past include Governor William Trousdale, Miss Vena Stuart, Colonel Thomas Boyers, Rev. Peter Vertrees, and Eliza Allen Houston Douglas. This year’s tour is themed. All of those portrayed played
a role in some way in World War I.

Those portrayed in this year’s tour are as follows:

Colonel Harry S. Berry– This year’s greeter often remarked that he was the youngest colonel in World War I and the oldest in World War II, and had an airport named after him.

Dr. Johnathan N. Rucker – Only African American officer from Sumner County.

Frank Leigh Branham – One of twelve from Sumner County to serve in Marines.

Helen O’Reilly  Nurse during the war. Just wait till you hear what she did on the boat ride home after the war.

Georgia DuBose – Find out what the YMCA had to do with WWI.

Catherine Ophelia Lapperty – Great granddaughter of Governor William Trousdale, also associated with the TMCA.

Kleber Bell Dunklin – Civil Engineer.

Will Henry Baker – Tennessee National Guard.

Dr. Pruitt Armstead Kelly – 114th Field Artillery at Camp Sevier.

The Cemetery Tour is hosted by the Sumner County Museum and is presented by Crestview Funeral Home, Memorial Gardens and Cremation. Tickets are $10 and go on sale September 1st at 10am. The Cemetery Tour takes place on October 7th, starting at 4pm with the last tour set to start at 8pm. A new tour begins about every five minutes. All proceeds benefit the Sumner County Museum. Learn more at sumnercountymuseum.org.

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