Dunedin's "History Comes Alive" Annual Event

The Dunedin Historical Society has been putting on a living history event since 1996, in the historic Dunedin Municipal Cemetery. Each year the event has from seven to thirteen re-enactors. These persons portray the real-life story of persons who are interred there, from a large variety of time periods and occupations.

Dunedin Municipal Cemetery was begun in 1871 when Mr. Bartemus Brown donated approximately 10 acres of land near the shore of Jerry Lake for a church and cemetery. The Reverend Joseph Brown had arrived in Jonesboro, as Dunedin was originally called, by steamship in 1868 from the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. As the first minister in the area he immediately began to preach to the small community and in the four years since arrival, he had attracted most of the area's folks to his services. the material to build the church was donated by John Andrews, who later requested that the church be named for his brother, who had been killed in an accident. The church name eventually became the Andrews Memorial Chapel. The Andrews church and cemetery were quite a distance from Jonesboro and in 1888, a new church was built in town on Scotland Street. The old church was dismantled and the wood was used to build a school in downtown Dunedin, as it was renamed by the first postmaster. The cemetery fell into desolation. The church women would hold an annual picnic and work day in an attempt to keep the cemetery maintained. The women provided the picnic and the men provided the work on the grounds. Eventually the City of Dunedin took title in 1927 and the city has maintained the cemetery ever since. At this time, eligibility to use the cemetery is restricted to only Dunedin residents or closely defined family members of persons already interred there. There are over 2500 individuals interred in the cemetery. As a living history event each year, the Dunedin Historical Society hosts a day in the cemetery called "History Comes Alive." It is an event that takes place throughout the cemetery, at a variety of specific grave sites. The Historical Society carefully chooses specific individuals from various time periods and occupations, and spends much of the year researching the real lives of the persons chosen. At least one person each year is a military person. A scrapbook for each is carefully developed, with illustrations of the situations through which they lived. The resources of the Historical Society's museum are used for this research,; church records, tax and property title records, maps, newspaper archives, ancestry sites, museum photo and family record archives, military records as well as the museum's object and costume collections. Re-enactors are recruited from museum staff, Historical Society members and museum volunteers. Some do the research, some work on costumes, some do the re-enacting - some do it all. The event is held in the spring, to avoid Florida's summer heat. Each year the day features from seven to thirteen re-enactors, plus other groups like Boys Scouts to direct parking and veteran's groups with vehicles, encampments and demonstrations. In addition, an old-time photographer with a camera of the type that has a hood over the photographer's head, is available to take photos of attendees in various costumes. In 2020, the persons portrayed included Alexander Anderson, a rancher and moonshiner who was the first person buried in the cemetery, Johanna Daniels was a dairy farmer and midwife, as was her mother before her, and Bartemus Brown, who donated the land for the church and cemetery. Others were Ronald Benton Bock, a US Army veteran of the Vietnam War plus an early pioneer Elizabeth McClung Tate, whose grandfather fought in the American Revolution. Her father, husband and brothers fought in the War of 1812, and her son fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. The last two were Elbert Waterson, the owner of the Dunedin newspaper for 20 years, and last but not least, early pioneer Major Mason Anderson, a Confederate veteran who built a cotton gin on the Dunedin waterfront. When it burned, he sold his location to the two men who started the general store that helped the town to prosper and grow. Each re-enactor is set up with a draped table close to their own person's headstone, so the locations are scattered throughout the cemetery. Each actor, in period costume, has artifacts on their table to illustrate the circumstances of their life, plus their scrapbook with photos and their story. As the spectators arrive, the re-enactors relate the story of their life and discuss their artifacts. Each one speaks for 15-20 minutes and then begins again, for the four hour event, ending up with the location of their grave and any other family members buried near them. The event is from 10 A. M. to 2 P. M., and is very well attended. The price of admission is nominal but serves as a funding source for the Historical Society and their major project - The Dunedin Historical Museum located downtown in the old railroad station in the middle of town.

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