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People from the past will come alive Sunday during 26th annual Elgin Cemetery Walk

Eddie Szulfeatured ElgCemetery Walk.

Eddie Szula, featured in the Elgin Cemetery Walk.

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Updated: October 21, 2013 6:04AM



ELGIN — The Elgin Area Historical Society will host its 26th annual Elgin Cemetery Walk from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday at Bluff City Cemetery, along Bluff City Boulevard in Elgin.

This year begins a new quarter-century of educating and entertaining visitors who enjoy both history and dramatic presentations, according to a release from the historical society.

Historical society director Elizabeth Marston said that this year, volunteer actors will stand by the real graves portraying six former Elginites: Edward Szula, an early professional parachute jumper; Mary Stewart, a 19th century woman who fostered a former slave child; Louis Blum, owner of Blum’s Ice Cream Parlor; Levi Tennant, Civil War African-American soldier in the 106th U.S. Colored Troops; Annie Tallent, a Black Hills gold rush pioneer; and Polly Rutland, a freed slave who arrived in Elgin in 1862.

Marston said the event also will include some vignettes, including one about a mass grave at Elgin’s old cemetery along Channing Street (at the site of today’s Channing Elementary School), whose graves later were moved to Bluff City.

Admission is $8 in advance and for members of the historical society, or $10 for non-members on the day of the event. Advance tickets may be purchased at the Elgin Historical Museum, 360 Park St., or at the Ace Hardware stores on Lillian Street and North Spring Street.

Children under 14 can attend for free.

The old-time Elginites who will be brought back alive this year will be:

Edward Szula,
1914-1970

Portrayed by August Conte

One of two “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” personalities from Elgin, Edward Szula stepped from an airplane in 1938 with the intent of falling gently to the ground with the assistance of his parachute.

Unfortunately, it didn’t fully deploy, and his descent was a little faster than he had planned. He survived this plunge and lived until 1970.

Mary Elizabeth Stewart (nee Smith),
1846-1934

Portrayed by Linda Rock

Mary Elizabeth, who was known as “Lib,” was a beautiful red-haired woman in the Smith family home. Her father, Phineas, left the family farm to explore the gold fields of California in 1848. He returned without success, bought a dairy farm and successfully shipped the milk from his farm to Chicago, the first Elgin farmer to do so. This set the pace for Lib’s life, and she continued to find success in life as well.

Polly Rutland,
1798-1888

Portrayed by Traci Ellis

Polly was born into slavery in North Carolina. In 1862, she arrived in Elgin on the so-called “Contraband Train.”

She was the mother-in-law to Arthur Newsome twice over, since two of her daughters at different times were his wives.

Polly was a pillar of her community and was one of the founding members of the Second Baptist Church.

She lived to the age of 90 and died in Elgin in 1888.

Levi Tennant,
1847-1883

Portrayed by Rick Ellis

Levi was born into slavery in Alabama. He joined the Union forces in Decatur, Ala., on March 31, 1864, in the 106th United States Colored Troops. He served in a garrison unit until the end of the Civil War. He came to Elgin after the war and died of pneumonia at the age of 36.

Louis Blum,
1872-1941

Portrayed by Bill Briska

Louis was the owner and proprietor of an Elgin institution — “Blum’s Ice Cream and Homemade Candies.” This ice cream parlor was located downtown on Douglas Avenue for many years and was a popular place for children and adults.

Annie Tallent,
1827-1901

Portrayed by Bonnie Conte

Annie was born in New York, one of 11 children. Her father was active in the Scottish church, which later was affiliated with the Presbyterian church.

In 1874, she traveled with her husband to the Black Hills in the Dakota Territories, becoming the first white female to enter this area. Gold had been reported to have been discovered there, and a group of men set out to try their hand at finding it. But the area was declared off-limits to any settlers by a treaty with the Native Americans, and the group was sent home.



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