While most go to cemeteries during Halloween for holiday festivities, those who attended the Riverside Cemetery Tour on Oct. 29, went for the history. Organized by the University of Colorado Denver’s Dr. Tom Noel, the tour is a yearly event celebrating the roots of Colorado’s history and the figures who shaped it.
Former students, friends and Noel himself dress as notable individuals like Augusta L. Tabor, Lester Drake, Katrina Wolf Murat and several others, explaining their stories and the roles they took in shaping the state. Originally, the event was meant to spark the interest of Noel’s students. “I found that young students who are usually bored by history often became curious when they saw a tombstone or grave statue or mausoleum,” Noel said. “I would ask them to stand by their favorite character in cemeteries and answer for us all the old history teacher’s question: Please identify who lies here and give their significance.”
The event proved so successful in piquing his students’ interest that Noel expanded it into an event open to the public. Current and former students signed on to help. Friends and colleagues of Noel’s also joined in the effort. Now 28 years old, the event is an annual tradition that attracts people of all ages. Former students of Noel’s have stuck around for multiple years to portray different characters. Katy Ordway, a student who graduated from UCD in 2004 and became a history teacher at Red Rocks Community College, said she brings the event’s interactive mindset into her classes.
“It’s a fun way to learn history,” Ordway said. Ordway acted as Kiku Oyama, a prostitute killed by a serial strangler in the late 1800s. She has portrayed several characters since joining five years ago.“We’re at the graves, we tell these stories,” she said. “We literally bring it to life.”
Attendee Philip Atwater was happy to have a unique opportunity to learn about the state’s history.“It’s a great way to learn about some of the people in the state of Denver,” Atwater said. “It’s great to hear their history, their roles.” Noel hoped those who attended, both natives and newcomers to the state, would gain an appreciation for local history as well as the subject in general.“Colorado has so many newcomers who know little, if any, Colorado history,” Noel said. “I hope our cemetery tours teach everyone about important Colorado history makers, and give them a curiosity to explore other cemeteries, classes, tours and talks.”