Lake County past comes to life with cemetery tour

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above, Jill Engelman, who headed the tour, pointed out a double headstone, where two child siblings were buried. 

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above, Jill Engelman, who headed the tour, pointed out a double headstone, where two child siblings were buried. 

Star photo/Shanna Avery

BALDWIN — The two groups who went on a tour of the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries Sunday afternoon got more than just sight-seeing. 

The Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program, part of the Baldwin Sesquicentennial, was more than just an ordinary cemetery tour. At six featured gravesites, folks got to hear the life-stories from the very people buried beneath the sod, represented by talented local reenactors. The vintage costumes, actual artifacts and items representing each person at the six different graves, brought these individuals to life. 

Jill Engelman, curator for the Lake County Historical Museum, welcomed the tour groups, and throughout the program, shared Victorian mourning customs and art and symbolism on the gravestones. 

"You are visiting Pleasant Plains and Webber Cemetery (cemeteries), two out of 22 cemeteries in Lake County, along with private burials on farms and rural areas," Engelman said, conveying how the land for the cemetery was purchased for $200 by the Flint and Pere Marquette Railroad and, being on the township line, was divided into Pleasant Plains and Webber portion, (managed separately by each township.)

The first known burial was Humphrey Holford, a Civil War veteran, in July 1876, Engelman continued. By 1877, it was divided into lots and residents were entitled each to a lot, according to a Lake County Star article from the time. 

Among some of the customs, Engelman shared, was a family burial quilt, pictures of the deceased for one last family photo, making jewelry with strands of hair, and a superstition of carrying the coffin out of the home feet first so the deceased couldn't look back and take anyone with them. 

The first grave visited was for Baldwin businessman George Duffin, (1876-1956), visited by his wife Rena Duffing, portrayed by Rose Dionne, who is the real wife of Duffing's grandson, Ron Dionne. 

She told about George's adventures and business philosophy, "if you're not seeing success with a business or the outcome you'd like, try a new business." 

Among business pursuits for Duffing was owning a lumber company, then a hardware, then becoming an undertaker, selling used furniture, owning an auto dealership, selling real estate from land he bought in Marlborough, starting Government Lake Lodge, and remaining active civically. 

"He was always doing something. I could never keep up," she said.

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above is Rose Dionne, portrayed her husband's grandmother, Renda Duffing, wife of businessman George Duffing. 

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above is Rose Dionne, portrayed her husband's grandmother, Renda Duffing, wife of businessman George Duffing. 

Star photo/Shanna Avery

The next grave was that of Sarah Bradford (1933-1917), portrayed by her descendent Susie Bradford Tripp, dressed in Victorian-style clothing. 

Sarah was the wife of Baldwin area pioneer Jesse Bradford. Their growing family came across the Atlantic Ocean in the early 1870s, later settling two miles east of Baldwin along the Sanborn Creek.

The Bradfords had a beautiful and plentiful farm. Altogether they had 18 children. Many of the descendents of the Bradfords are still part of the community.  

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above is Susie Bradford Tripp, representing her pioneer ancestor Sarah Bradford. 

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above is Susie Bradford Tripp, representing her pioneer ancestor Sarah Bradford. 

Star photo/Shanna Avery

Ida Estelle Crosby (1856-1930) portrayed by Marty Corson, dressed in a fishing outfit, visited her husband Henry Crosby's gravesite. The Crosby's owned and managed Harvecamp on the Pere Marquette, a hunting and fishing lodge. Among the famous guests were Tiger's baseball player, Ty Cobb, who gave the couple his picture, (one of the artifacts presented at the grave). The couple also were responsible for "Club Row" along 72nd on the Pere Marquette, with businessmen from Grand Rapids and other places starting their own lodges. 

Reliance Blass visited the grave of her husband George Blass (1868-1934), who was a prominent businessman. She was portrayed by descendent Barbara Blass-Frisbey.  George Blass was proprietor of the Atlantic Hotel in White Cloud and Pacific Hotel in Baldwin, engaging in real-estate after retiring from the hotel business. 

LCHS President Bruce Micinski wowed the groups with his acting skills, making past Star editor Herb Davis (1879-1950) come to life. He shared about some of his favorite articles and events he covered through those years, and even read a poem he wrote in 1933, published in newspapers all over, about taxes. 

The last line of the poem, "Give folks a break and tax legislature," got a rouse from the audience. 

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above, Bruce Micinksi brings former Star editor Herb Davis back to life, with his skilled acting. 

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above, Bruce Micinksi brings former Star editor Herb Davis back to life, with his skilled acting. 

Star photo/Shanna Avery

Terry Bramer, a Baldwin area veteran, portrayed Private Charles Dobry (1894-1918) at Dobry's gravesite, with the American Legion Post No. 133 named for him. Dobry met his fate in the battlefields of France during World War 1. After being exhumed twice in France, his mother finally got him home to his final resting place at Baldwin. 

Bramer relayed at the end of the presentation how Dobry was the first soldier from Lake County killed in action in WWI. 

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above, Michele Owens demonstrates the art of gravestone rubbing. 

Visitors of the Lake County Historical Society's "Stranger Stop and Cast an Eye" program got to hear the life-stories of the people buried in the Pleasant Plains and Webber Township cemeteries, represented by talented local reenactors. Above, Michele Owens demonstrates the art of gravestone rubbing. 

Star photo/Shanna Avery

Another highlight of the tour was a gravestone rubbing demonstration by Michele Owens. People were given their own kits at the end of the program. 

"Thank you for joining us today," Engelman said at the end of the tour. "This is another way LCHS preserves our heritage through events like this."