Historic Tombstone Tales program returning to Taylorsville Cemetery following two-year pandemic delayAug 05, 2022 10:15AM ● By Carl Fauver
This 19-year-old banner publicized the second rendition of Tombstone Tales. Later this month, performers will offer the always different program a fifth time. (Courtesy Susan Yadeskie)
It’s been a summer of change for the Taylorsville Arts Council so far. But this month, the active group of volunteer entertainers is returning to an old tradition that’s been around nearly as long as the city itself.
First let’s go back to June, and perhaps the biggest change for the arts council. One of their annual summer traditions has been a musical from their youngest performers. But this year, the Taylorsville Arts Council Youth Theater put a new twist on it – performing “Willy Wonka Jr.” on the city’s new outdoor amphitheater stage in the equally new Centennial Plaza, south of City Hall and west of the Mid-Valley Performing Arts Center.
Next came July, and something almost as new as the first amphitheater performance. July 11 through 16, the Taylorsville Arts Council performed “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” on the MVPAC main stage. It wasn’t their first-ever production in that 450-seat theater…but only their second. The first – “Winter Wonderettes,” performed last December – featured a much smaller cast.
So now comes August – but instead of breaking in new venues, the Taylorsville Arts Council is returning to the oldest “venue” they ever play… Taylorsville Cemetery (4575 S. Redwood Road).
“Tombstone Tales tells the history of prominent members of our community who have passed away,” Taylorsville Historic Preservation Committee Chair Susan Yadeskie explains. “It’s a very unique show. Audience members walk to several different headstones in the cemetery and hear short stories about each of those people. The stories are presented by performers in period clothing, speaking as if they are the deceased person. But none of it is ‘scary.’ It simply brings Taylorsville history to life in an entertaining way.”
Former Taylorsville residents Helen Smith and Mavis Steadman are credited with creating Tombstone Tales. Its first rendition came just two years after the city incorporated, in 1998. Mayor Kristie Overson is quite familiar with one of those creators.
“The original Tombstone Tales was written and directed by my mother, Mavis Steadman,” Overson said. “She was a public school teacher for about 35 years. For most of that time she was the drama teacher at Eisenhower Junior High. She was always very active in the community.”
Yadeskie remembers the mayor’s mother very well, also. She credits Steadman with involving her in Tombstone Tales.
“When Mavis Steadman was a teacher at Eisenhower, I did some substitute teaching for her once in a while,” Yadeskie said. “She knew I enjoyed acting and asked me to appear in the first Tombstone Tales, after she had written the script. In 1998, I played Mary Ellen Cook, a survivor of the Martin Handcart Company. I have performed in every Tombstone Tales since. This will be my fifth.”
Following that initial 1998 production, subsequent Tombstone Tales performances were offered in 2003, 2009 and 2015. The Arts Council and Historic Preservation Committee had planned to present it again in 2020, before coronavirus pushed it back another couple of years.
This time around, Yadeskie wrote half of the scripts. The other half were penned by Taylorsville Arts Council Co-Chair Susan Holman.
“My first time to write Tombstone Tales scripts was in 2015 and I am glad to be doing it again,” Holman said. “It is fun to get to know the histories of people from our community. We always get family members’ permission first to tell their ancestor’s story. Then we also ask them if anyone in the family would like to portray their relative in the production.”
The uniqueness of Tombstone Tales begins long before attendees arrive at Taylorsville Cemetery. Because there is no parking there, people are asked to park at Eisenhower Junior High (4351 S. Redwood Road). From there you can walk to the cemetery or, every 20 minutes a tractor-drawn trailer will carry patrons – not on Redwood, but through the neighborhood – to the cemetery.
Oh, and this entire production is free of charge.
“We could probably do some kind of fundraiser around Tombstone Tales; but it’s always been free, and it’s a fun tradition, so we aren’t changing it,” Yadeskie concluded.
Tombstone Tales, this fifth iteration, will run August 25 to 27. Wagons will roll out of the Eisenhower parking lot every 20 minutes, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The entire show – complete with roundtrip trailer ride – runs about 90 minutes. In years past, Tombstone Tales has performed to about 1,000 people over its 3-night run.