THIRD ANNUAL EVENING CEMETERY TOURS OFFERING A WALK INTO THE PAST

 

Valley View and Finney County Historical Society hosting on Oct. 20, 21 and 22

Southwest Kansans can take a walking tour of Garden City’s Valley View Cemetery during three evenings in October, discovering a trove of historical information and meeting a few figures from the community’s 137-year past.

Established in 1883, the cemetery includes more than 13,000 graves and serves as the final resting place for many of the community’s founders, early leaders and everyday citizens.

The tours are taking place for the third consecutive year, hosted in partnership by the cemetery and the Finney County Historical Society. They’re sponsored by Price and Sons Funeral Home, with support from the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Each will be led by Johnetta Hebrlee, education coordinator at the Finney County Museum.

Tour times include 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Oct. 20, 22 and 22, with tour groups gathering at the cemetery office. Parking will be available east of the office, inside the cemetery fence off of north Third Street.

 

TICKETS ON SALE NOW

Admission for the walking tours is $10 per person, with cash or checks accepted, and they’re being sold in advance only. Tickets are available seven days weekly at the museum, 403 S. Fourth in Finnup Park. Exhibit hours there are 1-5 p.m. seven days weekly, via the front entrance; with offices open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, via the north door.

Each tour will run 60 to 90 minutes, with stops at approximately 10 to 12 gravesites and three memorials. Volunteer re-enactors will emerge at certain points along the route to portray figures from the 19th and 20th Centuries.

“People had a lot of fun and learned some interesting local history during the tours in 2014 and 2015, so we’re going to conduct them again,” said Steve Quakenbush, FCHS executive director. “While they’re taking place in October, the tours have nothing to do with ghosts or goblins or Halloween. The emphasis is on local history, and on some of the people who have played significant roles in that history.”

 

STORIES TO TELL

Those who attend can expect some consistency but also some changes from the two previous years, in order to keep the experience unique. Among the historic gravesites visited on past tours were the resting places of Buffalo Jones and John Stevens, two of the city’s four founders; Mitchal Runnels, the young man whose headstone includes the engine from his beloved 1920s automobile; Jake Fleagle, of the notorious Fleagle Gang of robbers from the early 20th Century; James and Luticia Fulton, other founders whose 19th Century garden is credited with inspiring Garden City’s name; and 13 young Native American men who died during the Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918 after arriving to work in Finney County’s sugar beet fields.

“There are just so many stories to tell about the people who have made Finney County what it is today,” Hebrlee said. “You might not realize it, but a visit to the cemetery is great way to discover some of those stories.” Established 133 years ago, the cemetery has been operated by the city since 1940. While not the first or only site for graves in Finney County, it is the largest by far, covering 40 acres with an additional 40 acres in reserve.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this without our sponsor’s support, the help of the CVB or without Cemetery Director Kelly Stevenson and his staff as our partners,” Quakenbush said. The tour series is taking place not only as a fund-raising endeavor for the historical society, but as a way for the organization to carry out its mission of preserving the past to enlighten the future.

​The tours are geared primarily for adults, and each group will be limited in size to enhance the experience. Tickets are being offered on a first come-first served basis, and they sold out in advance both prior years.