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History Comes to Life in LA Cemetery


Each year, history comes to life at a Los Angeles cemetery where residents of the West Adams district explore their city’s past. The Living History tour connects people in one neighborhood with interesting, and interred, residents from earlier years.

Many Hollywood notables are buried at the Angelus Rosedale Cemetery, including Hattie McDaniel. She was a pioneering black actress who lived in the neighborhood and won an Oscar for her role in the 1939 film "Gone with the Wind."

Each year, thanks to locals who take on their personas, visitors to the cemetery hear about lesser known residents buried here. They have stories that are just as compelling.

One is William T. Glassell. He came from Virginia and was a captain in the Confederate navy during the U.S. Civil War.

He’s played by local resident Matthew Kravitz:

“And I was actually the one to first command a naval submarine in an attack against the Union Fleet," said Karvitz, speaking in character.

Glassell survived the war and co-founded the California city of Orange, southeast of LA.

Elsewhere in the cemetery, Craig Weber tells the story of Portus Baxter Weare. He and his associates helped spark the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. “We formed the North American Transportation and Trading Company, whose job was to displace people from their Midwestern lives and bring them to the Yukon in northwestern Canada with the promise of finding gold beyond measure," he said.

Magicians, musicians, writers and other outsized personalities are also buried here.

Michelle Youssefzadeh plays Nina Vitagliano Torre, an early race car driver who embellished her life story. “She motor-carred in Europe and said that she was from royalty, which wasn’t the case at all. She was actually born here in California," she said.

Torre died in a racing accident in 1918.

Harvey O’Melveny was a lawyer and judge who helped bring trans-continental rail service to Los Angeles. Chris Taylor jumped at the chance to portray him. “I’m fascinated by 19th century history, and especially Los Angeles and California history, and like a lot of us, we love dressing up," said Taylor.

Gena Yuvette Davis plays Miriam Matthews. She was a pioneering black librarian. “It’s really fun. It’s very inspiring to learn about someone and the impact that they made," she said.

The cemetery tour draws several hundred visitors a year.

On this day, Frank Piontek was one of them. “There are so many people of interest that you don’t realize that are buried here and other people you’ve never heard of. The history is just wonderful," he said.

The annual Living History program is sponsored by the West Adams Heritage Association.

They'll bring a new batch of personalities back to life in this cemetery next year.

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