cemetery tour

Madison Mooney, Long Beach Playhouse executive director, portraying Nina Cuthebert during the 2019 Historical Society of Long Beach Historical Cemetery Tour.

For the past 24 years, the Historical Society of Long Beach (HSLB) has shared local lore in a unique way. Each October, the group has re-enacted meaningful moments in Historical Cemetery Tours.

Since performances revolve around graveyard residents, the spooky setting has been an ideal location for the historical fundraiser. Attendees have gathered near grave markers to watch costumed actors present portions of Long Beach history.

Before the onset of COVID-19, HSLB’s 25th annual cemetery tour was scheduled to take place on Halloween. The event always draws a crowd; about 1,000 people attend each year. But given the current health issues, HSLB historians decided to reimagine their 2020 presentation.

Instead of hosting a live event, the group created a compelling film. “From Seaside Resort to International City: The Story of Long Beach Lives in its Cemeteries” traces the evolution of the area in a 90-minute montage of video vignettes and photos.

Julie Bartolotto, who has served as HSLB’s executive director since 1996, said she is proud of her team and its innovative solution.

“It’s genius,” Bartolotto said. “People are excited about it and we have already had a great response.”

Instead of selling tickets to a live performance, the organization is selling access to a video link. The HSLB virtual tour combines videos of past presentations with photos and scripts written by historians Dr. Kaye Briegel, Dr. Craig Hendricks and Roxanne Patmor.

From Oct. 30 to Nov. 13, families can watch the film from the comfort of their home. Content is suitable for viewers of all ages and it meets LBUSD requirements for local and state history instruction.

The film includes 13 re-enactments, with roles played by experienced actors. According to Patmor, each historical segment represents 30 to 40 hours of work.

“The historian and script writer spend months working on the research and script,” Patmor said. “Actors rehearse on their own and have five (or six) rehearsal sessions with the director, historian and scriptwriter.”

The film’s voice-over narration explains a selection of memorable events, like the Pacific Southwest Exposition, which was hosted by the Port of Long Beach in 1928. Erected in 10 ½ weeks, the temporary Tunisian-style city drew more than a million visitors to Long Beach. Expo exhibitions featured artifacts from every corner of the globe. Architects designed the dramatic, World Fair-like setting, but it only stood for five and a half weeks. Refection pools and courtyards filled with costumed performers were surrounded by plaster board palaces and towers.

Tremendous work has gone into the HSLB virtual production, Patmor said. Board members Andy Zacharais and Anna Kate Mohler, who run Jewel Box Children’s Theater Company, took on the technical aspects of the film. Bartolotto expressed gratitude for the support received from Jewel Box and the event sponsor, the Port of Long Beach.

Household passes for the film can be purchased for $40 ($35 for members). Super Supporter Passes are available for $100; History Lover Passes are $250. For passes and information, go to www.hslb.org.

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