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Lively conversations with the dead
It's not often that dinner conversation can raise the dead, but that is what the Genealogical Society of Yuma will do Saturday.
The eighth annual Dining with the Dead is a barbecue and guided tour of the Yuma City Cemetery, 1st Avenue and 13th Street. The idea is to relive history with some of the pioneers of Yuma who are buried there, said Betsy Gottsponer, a genealogist with the society.
Tickets are $20 and can be purchased at Brownie's Restaurant, 1145 S. 4th Ave., or the Book Nook, 11242 S. Foothills Blvd., until noon, or all day at John and Margie's Ranch House Restaurant, 4340 E. Highway 80, which is catering the dinner.
Dinner will be at 4:30 p.m., with tours offered every 15 minutes from 4 to 8 p.m.
A group of 10 will re-enact the historical figures whose lives had significant impact on the city. Visitors will be led through the graveyard, but they must keep to the asphalt paths because the bare ground can be a bit devilish, Gottsponer noted.
"We can't walk to the actual grave site because it's all dirt. We can get you close but there are too many sinkholes out there and we haven't got any liability insurance."
Gottsponer said it is a unique evening on the town, and many people want to learn more about the pioneers who settled Yuma. One of the more charismatic figures rising from the hereafter to beguile the curious is William T. Alderson, a Yuma housepainter from the 1890s.
At the end of the 19th century, Alderson had to order his paint from Sears & Roebuck because in those days there was no building supplier for miles around. But what made Alderson interesting was not his occupation but his persistence to keep his parched palate well-hydrated, Gottsponer said.
"When he died, the headline read, 'Town Drunk Hit by a Train.' I'm not too sure his wife Rose appreciated that. She was my great-grandmother and a prim and proper woman."
Rose later remarried, this time to the far more sober Gus Livingston, Yuma sheriff from 1901 to 1912. There will also be a portrayal of Rose.
There are also re-enactments of Frank and Madora Ingalls. Frank was the Yuma Territorial Prison warden about the turn of the 20th century and was regarded as quite a progressive, Gottsponer said. He required all prisoners to learn to read and write before he would release them from jail.
He thought if prisoners became literate, they were less likely to return to a life of crime. But the East Coast press thought it was scandalous and Yuma was going soft on its inmates, Gottsponer said.
"It was 125 degrees in the summer in that hellhole and they thought we were coddling prisoners."
Madora established the first town library, although it was behind the prison walls, said Gottsponer.
Another notable revived from Yuma's heritage will be Anna Lenahan, who succumbed to the 1918 worldwide flu epidemic, as portrayed by Carol Brooks, curator of the Yuma County Historical Society.
"Even those of us who are natives find this interesting," said Gottsponer. "Everyone should know about the early settlers. They're the ones who made Yuma what it is."