Jane Nunn, Jill Prout, and Roxanne Martinez performing in 2022 as Elinor Knox, Eva Anderson, and Polly Johnson.

A family-friendly Long Beach tradition celebrating people, community and culture, through performances, displays, and discussion.

Many will never go beyond the metal gates of cemeteries where they become the few living among the many dead. The 27th Annual Historical Cemetery Tour hosted by the Historical Society of Long Beach (HSLB) is a self-guided experience that seeks to inspire new ways to interact with these hallowed grounds, and celebrate the lives of those who once called Long Beach home.

This unique event on Saturday, October 28th takes place within the city’s oldest cemeteries, Sunnyside and Municipal, where more than 20,000 people have been laid to rest since the 1800s. For the past twenty-seven years, the Historical Society has invited people from across Southern California to these historic spaces to see the dead come back to life. And no, not as zombies! Instead, local historians use the HSLB archive and their brilliant expertise to write entertaining and informative stories of the people buried there. With the help of community actors from the Long Beach Playhouse, these stories are memorized, blocked, costumed, rehearsed, and eventually performed at the graves of those portrayed.

Indiana Jones DelaO and Paige Laney performing in 2022 as Valentine and Maybell Leal.

The eight graveside performances featured this year guarantee a fascinating exploration into early Long Beach history. One story, “Meanwhile Back at the Rancho,” explores the lives of two different workers at Rancho Los Alamitos between the 1920s and 1940s, Lydia Shinkle the cook and Jesus Vasquez the ranch hand. This is the first time Lydia is brought to life for this event. She fed the ranch hands and Bixby family for several decades. Regardless of her hearing loss and the social taboo of being a single woman, Lydia successfully commanded a challenging work environment granting her a respected place in the rancho’s history. Together, the story of Lydia and Jesus recalls their shared experiences of life on the rancho, the infamous 1933 Long Beach Earthquake, and the many Mexican and Japanese families they lived and worked with.

Other stories dive into the strange and mysterious. “Strange Sea Tales” explores the little know process of how someone in Long Beach once embalmed one of the world’s largest mammals—a whale! Another story examines the curious case of the missing mausoleum. Architect Horace Austin built a mausoleum for his father upon these grounds in the early part of the twentieth century. After a few years and some photographic fame, the ornately-carved stone mausoleum simply disappeared. But how could this have happened? Tales of the bizarre do not rest on embalmed whales and missing mausoleums alone, for murder by the sea is also guaranteed. In 1932, a gambling ship’s card dealer was tragically murdered. Did he deal a bad hand or was it something about the diamonds in his pocket?

Not interested in mystery or the macabre? This event also features a look into the lives of diverse Long Beach families of the past. These families give visitors an understanding of life in Long Beach for past generations. We meet the Linares family who held deep ties to California’s Mexican and Spanish eras and farmed the land of Recreation Park long before it became one of the city’s favorite playgrounds. The large Harnett family is also featured. They arrived in Long Beach around the same time the city was founded. We hear from three of their thirteen children on what it was like to swim at the beach, run a poultry farm, and put on a grand high school pageant in the early years of Poly High School.

Zadie Cannon and Tara Brown performing in 2022 as Amanda Cleag and Sallie Cleag Pierce.

Additionally, this event includes various attractions that bridge connections between the living, dead, history, and culture. Day of the Dead ofrendas, Cambodian Memorial Flags, Early African American families, Terminal Islander Dancers and other community displays will dot the cemeteries providing visitors an opportunity to learn first-hand from diverse communities across this city.

The Historical Cemetery Tour is a family-friendly Long Beach tradition that celebrates those who came before us. It is a rare opportunity to travel back in time and meet the people who shaped the place we call home.

We hope to see you there! For more information and to buy tickets visit hslb.org.