On a damp, dreary mid October evening, visitors to the Historic Covington Cemetery were treated to more than tombstones and flowers. At nine selected graves around the cemetery, voices from the past told the story of each site’s occupant. From preachers to gypsies, they told a variety of stories that all ended in death.
Of course these were no spectral beings from beyond the grave. Instead, they were nine well-rehearsed actors highlighting the Covington/Newton County Chamber of Commerce "Voices from the Past."
Director of Tourism Clara Deemer, who helped organize the event, said the turnout for the tour exceeded anyone’s expectations. More than 300 tickets were sold for the event, well in excess of the 100 Deemer expected to be sold.
"We were pleasantly surprised and a lot of it was due to the Georgia Perimeter College and Oxford College students and their participation," she said.
Early in the process of organizing the tour, Deemer contacted Clark Lemons, professor of English at Oxford College, about getting students involved. Lemons was able to recruit two students and two Oxford employees to present narratives. Cynthia Millsaps portrayed Julia A. Camp Porter, Sandi Schein played Frances Reynolds Brown Merritt, Will Alisberg played General James Phillip Simms and Amelia Thomaston played Martha Hood Dorsett.
"It is amazing how right on character they were," Deemer said.
Thomaston in particular seemed perfect for the part. At 20 years old, she is the same age Dorsett was when she died. She was not the only one of the participants with a connection to their character. Current Bethlehem Baptist Church pastor the Rev. Hezekiah Benton played the Rev. Tony Baker, the preacher who started the church. The Rev. Brian Dale, current minister at Allen Memorial United Methodist Church in Oxford, portrayed Andrew Hamill, a Methodist circuit preacher. And in the closest connection, Chris Smith portrayed his great-grandfather Dr. Luke Robinson.
"We just loved the way that all fits in together," Deemer said. "We just couldn’t be any more pleased with the whole community and especially the volunteers. We also had people volunteer to be tour guides and to drive the golf carts and, of course, to do the research."
Kay and Frank Turner as well as relatives of the deceased and other community members contributed to the research.
"We knew that we wanted to have it in the Covington Historic Cemetery," Deemer said. "And we knew we wanted it to be more than a guided tour of walking through the cemetery. And so the idea came about that if we could research the lives of some of the people buried there, it would be great to have them portrayed. And I think that is what really made the tour so special was the portrayal of the people. It is so much better to hear somebody tell you a story, and that is what history is."
The tour was a first in Newton County, Deemer said, but because of the response, it will not be the last. All proceeds from the event will be donated to the Newton County History Center and the Miracle Field. The hope is that in the future, the history center will host more cemetery tours.