Voices From The Past

At Asa Bales Park, guests met the park’s namesake and his wife, one of Westfield’s first doctors, a Civil War soldier, and his mother.

The groups next traveled to Hadley Park, a pocket park in the heart of downtown, where they learned about the history of homes and businesses from the guides along the way. At the park, they met namesake Roy Hadley and another former business person and active citizen, both born around the turn of the century.

The tour continued on to Old Friends Cemetery Park, site of Westfield’s first cemetery and a park that recently underwent a major renovation. Here, the tour groups heard from another founding father and benefactor of the cemetery, another Civil War soldier, and one of the most educated women of the late-nineteenth century and namesake of the garden area of the park.

Living History

Two elements that made the event truly special were the connection to the actors and the park settings. It is one thing to read the story of founding fathers on a plaque or a website, but it is an entirely different experience to have someone telling the story as that person and being able to interact, allowing people to connect to history on a personal level.

In the midst of the Civil War sesquicentennial, it would be difficult not to be moved by a young man in uniform talking about doing his part for President Abraham Lincoln and revealing he did not make it back home, and his mother relaying how proud she was of his courage and sacrifice.

Making the experience even more of a reality was listening to the stories told at the headstones or burial sites of the people being portrayed. One attendee even spoke about feeling the presence of the people in the parks–not in a frightening, paranormal way, but in a way that made her think they were happy to be remembered.

Some attendees said they would never think about the city the same way and had never appreciated history more. Mission accomplished. Voices from the Past not only brought people of all ages and backgrounds to three parks in one day–a goal of any parks and recreation department–but the citizens learned a great deal.

“All of us are connected to the past, and that link helps us enjoy more fully the present,” said the president of the Westfield-Washington Historical Society.

So, when planning your next events, don’t just consider the latest trends, but look to your community’s past for inspiration. You do not need a pre-Civil War cemetery to host a living history event because every community has voices to be heard that should not be forgotten.

Stephanie Fix is an administrative assistant for the city of Westfield’s parks and recreation department. She can be reached via email at sfix@westfield.in.gov.

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