Our Town: McDonough Cemetery tour touts history not horror

It’s that time of year when those who like getting goose bumps head out for a spooky town or cemetery tour, complete with costumed guides who lead strollers through reputedly haunted areas and relate chilling stories designed to get spines tingling.

The Spirits of McDonough City Cemetery Tour this weekend takes a different approach to the traditional ghost tour. The event, in its second year, taps the talents of local residents and those with deep roots to the Henry County town. Outfitted in period costumes, these guides will tell the stories of the dear departed and the personal connections many have to them.

“This tour allows us to tell the history of our community through stories,” said tour chair Judy Neal, who came up with the cemetery stroll as a fundraiser for McDonough Arts, a nonprofit dedicated to showcasing the arts. “When you say ‘arts,’ the average person thinks of paintings on the wall, but I thought this tour would be a good opportunity for writers to write scripts and for people who want to get into the performing arts to act them out.”

The tour also highlights the cemetery itself, an historic property that dates back to the late 1840s.

“We’re able to do so many things through this one event, and one of them is calling attention to the need to preserve the cemetery and the past,” said Neal, who has several family members buried there.

Last year’s inaugural tour centered on stories of the town’s earliest settlers. This year, the time line starts in the Civil War era and stretches into the 20th Century. Tour-takers will hear real and often personal stories of those buried in the hallowed ground, including one of a beloved English teacher who led the local 8th grade for decades.

“A group of residents in their 60s all give this teacher, Nell Newman, credit for their interest in English, and they wanted to include her,” said Neal.

Gene Morris, the county historian, will portray his great-great grandfather, who died in 1920 and was the third generation of the family to raise cotton in the area. Jeff Reeves, who has lived in two of the town’s historic homes, will take on the role of McDonough’s longtime physician, in whose house he currently lives. Reeves’ sister, Lynda Reeves Hester, will channel their grandmother, Katherine Clay.

“My grandfather had a traveling moving picture show, and he and my grandmother traveled around the South,” said Hester. “My mother was five when they got to McDonough, and my grandmother said it was the friendliest town she’d ever been in, and she was not going to move. My grandfather turned a stable into a little movie house where they lived until 1941. My mother and my family grew up here because of my grandmother.”

Hester plans to dress in the same suit her mother wore when she left on her honeymoon in 1949.

“It’s very close to what my grandmother also would have worn in the 1940s,” she said. “I’ll stand at her grave site and tell her story. It will be very intimate.”

Last year’s tour was so popular, a second day has been added this year. Tours are planned from 5 to 7 p.m. todayand from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults; $5 children 12 and younger. For directions and details, call 404-660-3813; www.mcdonougharts.net.

Your community

Each Saturday, we shine a spotlight on a local neighborhood, city or community. To suggest a place for us to visit, e-mail H.M. Cauley at hm_cauley@yahoo.com or call 404-514-6162.