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* CORRECTIONS: This article was corrected after publication. - Editor
Paul Fields portrays McKeesport's first African-American police officer, George W. Simmons, during the 2016 Living History Tour. (Submitted photo courtesy McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center)
If you go...
Fifth-Annual Living History Tour
Where: McKeesport & Versailles Cemetery
When: 12 to 4 p.m. Sept. 21 and 22
Encore: 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center
Tickets: $10 in advance; $12 at the event
More information: (412) 678-1832 or mckeesportheritage.org
The more that Bob MacPherson learned about George H. Lysle, the more he realized he was the ideal person to portray the legendary McKeesport mayor.
“First of all, I’m Scotch-Irish, my background is the same as his,” MacPherson said. “But I also learned that my great-grandfather, George Victor Parkins*, was a contemporary of Mayor Lysle. They were here during the same time and its safe to say they had a lot of interaction. He and Lysle were probably very close.”
The McKeesport Regional History and Heritage Center is hosting its fifth-annual Living History Tour from 12 to 4 p.m. Sept. 21 and 22 at McKeesport and Versailles Cemetery.
For those unable to attend the weekend performances, or who may not be able to walk on the tour, there will be an additional performance at the Heritage Center at 6 p.m. Sept. 26.
MacPherson is one of the actors who will be portraying notable and interesting figures from McKeesport’s history who rest in McKeesport & Versailles Cemetery.
“We have 11 historical figures this year, with some new and exciting characters for returning guests,” said Teresa Trich, community outreach director for the Heritage Center.
This is MacPherson’s “fourth or fifth” year performing in the Living History Tour. “I’m an amateur historian,” he said. “I typically spend about 200 hours of research on these characters. I want to make sure I have the best of who they were.”
MacPherson relies mostly on digital archives of books, articles, and magazines to do his research.
“I use the Online Library of Congress Catalog, as well as the HathiTrust Digital Library,” he said. “If a book or article in print has been digitized, I can find it in one of these resources.”
MacPherson’s personal affiliation with his character has made his performance even more meaningful to him.
“The folks [at the Heritage Center] had no idea I had this connection,” he said. “I am so thrilled that they gave me this role.”
MacPherson also intends to include details in his performance that are not in his character’s script, but that he feels are “too important to leave out.”
Nate Dunlop, who will play McKeesport attorney and historian Walter Riggs, also uses historical documents to do his research. But he has relied on other methods as well to develop a deeper understanding of his character in his fifth* year performing in the Living History Tour.
“The tour is a great way for community members to learn about historic residents and have some fun doing it,” said Dunlop. “I like to immerse people in my character by letting my own personality come through. I want to have genuine interactions with people. It’s kind of surreal in a sense, bringing this character to life and blurring the lines between story and reality.”
Dunlop said that Riggs “was a showman and a storyteller, which is something I can obviously relate to. He was a passionate yet eccentric historian, known for telling tall tales with questionable sources. I try to learn as much as I can to bring all aspects of my character’s life to my performance.”
For Dunlop, bringing all aspects of his character’s life to his performance means going the extra mile to get a better understanding of who Walter Riggs was.
“With these characters, I have gone as far as to visit historical sites where they lived while wearing my character’s costume,” he said. “Doing this allows me to get a feeling for what their life was really like, and what it was like to be them.”
Tickets can be purchased in advance for $10 at Eventbrite or at the Heritage Center, 1832 Arboretum Drive, Renziehausen Park, or at the event for $12.
Corrections: George Parkins' name was misspelled. This is Nate Dunlop's fifth year doing the living history tour. We apologize for the errors. --- Editor
Christopher Baumann is a freelance writer from Gibsonia. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published September 09, 2019.