Van Buren history explored at 7th Annual Tales of the Crypt

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 194 views 

Students from Tom Wing’s historical interpretations class spent the previous weekend (Oct. 20-21) portraying successful people of Van Buren’s past. The 7th Annual Tales of the Crypt raised money to preserve and restore gravestones in the Fairview Cemetery in Van Buren.

Randy Smith, co-coordinator of the event and a major contributor for the Fairview Cemetery, began the day by breaking everyone into groups of 25 and giving each group background information before they started their guided tour. He told listeners how he spent a year getting this cemetery onto the National Register of Historic Places. After that he thought it was over, but everything was only beginning.

“Handling the cemetery balances my life between a triangle of work, home, and the cemetery,” says Smith.

Pointing to the gravestone behind everyone he told how they received a grant for $10,000 and the city of Van Buren matched half of that after a tree limb fell and destroyed the monument. Knowing how to properly restore monuments is very important and requires some research.

The Tales of the Crypt uses Norton Fine Arts of Conservation Inc. to restore all their monuments. There has been a total of 22 monuments restored, six of which were supported by donations from the Tales of the Crypt events. Regardless of the amount donated, another restoration is slated for completion next year. This year’s event had almost 500 in attendance with more than 30 shirts sold. At $15 per shirt and $3 per entry, the money raised approached $2,000.

Amy Rowan, portraying Rebecca Allen Turner, started off the tour depicting events that happened in her life as she moved from England to the United States and finally ended up in Van Buren married to Judge Jessie Turner Sr. Her son, Jessie Turner Jr., became the mayor of Van Buren and opened a law firm with her husband.

David Niekell added some comedy to describe the life of Leonard Wilhaf. Wilhaf was a baker from Germany who served in the Mexican-American War under Archibald Yell and Albert Pike. He spoke of receiving the flag with the words “try us” as if to challenge the Mexicans to attack the young men of Arkansas.

Kelsey Bean was acting out the part of Mary Churchill Ward Dunham who was married to Joseph Starr Dunham. Joseph Dunham started the first newspaper ever printed in Van Buren. Through the hardships of war and a fire destroying most of his assets, he stayed strong with his wife by his side and his paper eventually consolidated with the Press Argus-Courier which is still printed today. Despite the shortage of paper he used wrapping paper, wall paper, and anything he could find to make sure the residents of Van Buren knew about the war and were informed.

Byron Ross was next telling the stories of Camille Hoffstatter. Hoffstatter, also German born, moved to Van Buren in 1869 and opened a barber shop.

“It was like one big family, the place where all the men gathered. I even had a running tab for over 100 people but I was never worried about it,” Ross said as his character.

Surrounded by pictures and a porcelain doll up on a hill was Carolyn Nelson describing the life of Darlene Balazic. She had three children, eight grandchildren and operated Darlene’s Beauty Salon in Van Buren until she died in 2001.

The final stop on the tour was Matt Vera portraying Captain James T. Stuart. Stuart was the stepson of John Drennen and fought for the Confederacy during the Civil War. He claims: “1860 was the worst days ever seen with Lincoln being elected.”

After being one of the last rebel fighters he finally surrendered and came back home to Van Buren, achieving the rank of Captain.

The historical depictions told how people from Van Buren affected the nation and how rich of a culture this town has because of people coming from other countries and being accepted.