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To listen to the famous local dead stand by their headstones and tell you their sad tales, join a Lantern Tour at the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery.
You'll be greeted at the tall, twisted iron gate by Judy Eitzen, president of the Old City Cemetery Committee, which is hosting the tour to raise money to repair old headstones and care for plots with no living families to tend to them.
"I like being here at night. It's calm and quiet and peaceful, and people like that." Eitzen said the committee wants the tours to be interesting, but at the same time respectful of the dead. Image by: Kati Garner
Before the tour begins, guests are treated to the sounds of Claudia's Kitchen, a thirteen-member band which includes 10 string instruments, a squeezebox and an accordion, with members dressed in turn-of-the-century styles with shawls and suspenders. The soft, old-time music takes you back into the past and perfectly sets the stage for what follows.
Image by: Kati Garner
Ghost guide for the evening was Mary Woolsey, a Victorian woman dressed in black taffeta and a long black veil who had lost her only daughter. Both of them were buried nearby. With her perfect posture and smooth gait, Mary appeared to float before us as we followed the bobbing lantern she carried into a bygone age. Image by: Kati Garner
We wandered along the cemetery pathways, joined by some of the wealthier dead Victorians dressed in black top hats and tails, black bustles, black gloves and widow's weeds. Image by: Kati Garner As we strolled down the shadowed lanes lit erratically by the swinging lanterns, we caught half glimpses of haunts: a woman kneeling and rocking her baby, a man in torn clothing holding a large shovel and glaring, a pale and perfect Gibson girl librarian and a woman in tattered rags clutching desperately at the bars of a tomb. There were dozens of silent dead from different eras wandering in and out of the moonlight or standing fixed in place. Image by: Kati Garner Image by: Kati Garner Image by: Kati Garner
Seven famous characters from Sacramento’s past were portrayed in depth, including the patriarch of a large family who sadly recounted their many demises. A ruined woman spoke of her revenge and her ill-fated child, and one touching story told of a man who stole a milk truck to pick up his ailing father at the train so he could die at home. Image by: Kati Garner Image by: Kati Garner Image by: Kati Garner
In the middle of the 45-minute tour is a short sit-down break to enjoy refreshments and view the Cemetery Cabaret. Some frightening little dead girls may ask you to play; they were delightfully disturbing. Image by: Kati Garner
It takes the effort of over 75 volunteers to put on these tours. One of them, Jeanne Baldwin, said she likes the stories, and that people learn something when they visit.
Our ghostly guide, in real life Julianna Horrell, said her favorite part is "leading kids' tours and introducing them to the fascinating stories of the past." She said there are at least four Julianas buried in the cemetery, and she'd like to research them in the future.
Maybe next year the tour will include one more ghost with an interesting tale to tell.
Image by: Kati Garner