Talking dead on walking tour: Oxford’s pioneers to be featured at cemetery event

Talking dead on walking tour: Oxford’s pioneers to be featured at cemetery event

Volunteers will be portraying Oxford’s pioneers during an Oct. 15 walking tour of the township cemetery on W. Burdick St. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio.

Folks are invited to stroll among the tombstones and journey into the past on Sunday, Oct. 15 as the Northeast Oakland Historical Society (NEOHS) conducts a walking tour of the Oxford Twp. cemetery on the north side of W. Burdick St.

“I just want them to enjoy the history of Oxford,” said Jim Lehtola, the tour’s organizer. “And I think this is a really pretty cemetery . . . The grounds themselves are so park-like with the rolling hills and all the oak trees. It’s just beautiful walking through here, especially in the fall.”

The tour’s theme is “Stories of Old Oxford: The Pioneers.” It will highlight the lives, deeds and achievements of the community’s 19th-century settlers.

The list of featured settlers includes John and Eliza Hovey, Dr. Egbert Burdick, Horace and Hannah Hovey, John Clemons, the Deming family, Samuel Axford, the VanWagoner family, William Powell and John Shippey.

“There are a lot of pioneers buried here, but these are the ones that I thought had really interesting stories – stories that were relatable or unusual,” Lehtola said.

Lehtola began researching the Oxford cemetery and its occupants last year. “I’ve found about 50 good stories,” he said.

One his personal favorites is the tale of the Demings.

They were Oxford Township’s very first settlers. Elbridge Deming made the first recorded purchase of public land here in 1823. He first traveled to his property in 1831 and moved his family there the following year.

The Demings built a log cabin about 100 feet away from the Indian trail people used to travel between Pontiac and Lapeer. They constantly offered their hospitality to weary travelers, tramping through the wilderness.

“They didn’t have much and they were living in almost complete isolation, but they welcomed people into their house,” Lehtola said. “They didn’t charge them to stay for the night or even to feed them. If people pay them, that’s fine. If they don’t pay them, that’s fine, too.”

“I kind of like to think that through all the years, this is still (the essence of) Oxford – we welcome people to our community,” he added.

Oxford Township was established in 1837 and the village was incorporated in 1876.

Those taking part in the walking tour will gather behind the NEOHS Museum located at 1 N. Washington St. (the northwest corner of M-24 and Burdick St.) in downtown Oxford and be transported to the cemetery via a shuttle provided by the North Oakland Transportation Authority. There will be absolutely no parking at the cemetery.

“My idea is the shuttle bus is going to be like a time machine,” Lehtola said. “When they leave the museum, it’s the 21st century, but by the time they get to the cemetery, they’ve gone back into the 1800s.”

Tour groups will leave for the cemetery every half-hour beginning at 1 p.m. The last tour will begin at 3 p.m.

Right now, five tours are scheduled.

“If those tours get all booked up, we might add one or two more,” Lehtola said.

Once they get to the cemetery, guides will take the groups from grave to grave where they will encounter volunteers portraying the settlers and their relatives. Lehtola wrote a script for each of them. The volunteers are encouraged to dress in period clothing and even use props where appropriate.

“The whole tour is going to be a little bit over an hour,” he said.

Rain or shine, the tours will go on and there will be a lot of walking on uneven ground. Folks are encouraged to be prepared and dress appropriately.

Lehtola is hoping to make the tour an annual event. “I found so many good stories in here, I think it could be,” he said. “I think you could do several years of tours in here. Different themes, different people, every year.”

“One of the amazing things about this cemetery is there’s over 50 Civil War veterans buried here. You could do a lot of stories just about the Civil War,” Lehtola noted. “We have one person here that was actually (part of) President (Abraham) Lincoln’s honor guard at his funeral.”

Tickets for the tour are $15 each and nonrefundable. They can be purchased in advance, with cash or check, at the NEOHS Museum. The museum is open on Thursdays and Saturdays from 1-4 p.m. and during special events. Tickets will also be sold the day of the tour. For more information, please call the museum at (248) 628-8413.


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