Old City Cemetery Brings Graveyard to Life With Unique Storytelling
As the sun sets on October evenings, candles light up the Old City Cemetery while actors prepare to bring the historical burial ground to life.
Every year, the Lynchburg cemetery holds Candlelight Tours, telling the individual stories and rich history of the 20,000 people buried mere feet below the ground.
“We never have a lack of stories to tell,” said Lucas Peed, the marketing and events planner at Old City Cemetery.
From year to year, no one story is ever repeated, giving the tours a bountiful source of the engaging and immersive history of those laid to rest there.
500 luminaries light the grounds, setting an eerie mood for the tours. A tour typically consists of six different interactive stories told by numerous professional actors dressed in period clothing.
One story for this upcoming tour is centered around a murder, based on newspaper articles regarding a murder trial involving one of the buried. Visitors get to play a part in this story as the jury, deciding the verdict of the case.
Visitors will also engage in a story of a Civil War refugee, a woman whose husband is off fighting in the Civil War, an early 1900’s shoe shiner who tells the story of his experience as an African American during segregation and other tales of the people buried there.
“You really get a journey through the ages” said Peed. “These are stories that are never going to make it into a history book for the most part, but they’re important stories.”
The night ends with the Candlelight Tours signature cemetery cookies and apple cider.
The first acre of Old City Cemetery was donated by John Lynch, founder of Lynchburg. The cemetery was established in 1806 and is the oldest municipal cemetery in Virginia still in use today.
The Old City Cemetery has a remarkable number of burials of people from all walks of life and eras, including eight of Lynchburg’s early mayors. For the first part of the cemetery’s life, it buried the elite of the town. As time went on, all sorts of individuals were buried there including people just passing by who died in the town or people who could not afford to be buried in any other cemetery.
There are around 2,500 veterans buried in the graveyard, at least one from every major war or conflict, with the most being from the Civil War. About two thirds of the buried are either African American or of African descent with about a quarter of the buried being children under the age of 5.
Those 20,000 people have been laid to rest, but their stories are brought back to life through the work the Old City Cemetery through their Candlelight Tours and other events.
Tickets for the in-person tours are sold out, but the tours will be professionally filmed and tickets for the film will be available online. Upon purchase, a link for the film will be sent to the purchaser. The film will be available October 24th.
More information can be found at www.gravegarden.org/events.
Kristen Pace is a Feature Reporter.