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History Tour Designed to Stir Hometown Pride

Tickets on sale for this weekend’s event at McKeesport & Versailles Cemetery

By Emily Pidgeon
The Tube City Almanac
September 11, 2020
Posted in: McKeesport and Region News

Now in its sixth year, McKeesport Regional History & Heritage Center’s Living History Tour features live actors recounting some of our area’s memorable figures and events.

The tour takes place this weekend at McKeesport & Versailles Cemetery, just off Fifth Avenue near UPMC McKeesport hospital. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, tickets are timed and should be purchased in advance.

Dave Moore, museum manager for the center, said this year’s tour is designed to entice the community with interesting and “really juicy stories” from McKeesport’s past. “Everyone is into true crime right now.”

The tour depicts stories from McKeesporters of the past who are buried at the cemetery, including La Roux Soles, a wealthy socialite whose death in 1933 made national news when her husband was charged with murder. A jury found him not guilty and her remains a mystery to this day.

Work on the tour, with includes choosing characters and developing the script, begins in January and February, according to Moore, and continues through the weeks leading up to the tour.

Other characters this year include Percy Garland, one of the first African-American industrial photographers, and his daughter, Phyllis Garland, a journalist during the civil-rights era.

Encouraging people to learn about the history of McKeesport was very important to Moore and others at the heritage center.

“People have needed impact from the city for a long time.” Moore says. The center’s hope for the tour is to inspire hometown pride in younger residents and showcase McKeesport in a positive way to the next generation

They “could be the next generation of good,” he says.

Moore believes strongly that history is more of than dates and dry facts.

“People hold on (more) to the story parts of history, and less to the dates and persons involved,” he says. Patrons of the heritage center often know more about local history than they realize, because they have absorbed personal stories from family and friends rather than information from textbooks, he says.

Tickets are being sold in limited groups to allow patrons to practice social distancing. Masks are required for patrons, and groups of no more than 10 may move through the tour together at one time, Moore says.

Actors will not be wearing masks while at their stations, to allow them to project their voices, but will be located at a safe distance from viewers while telling their stories, he says.

Contact areas will be thoroughly cleaned between groups. Additionally, water will be available for purchase.

Patrons who cannot attend the live tour, or who want to remain home to avoid inclement weather, will have the opportunity to view a filmed version of the tour in the coming weeks, Moore says.

This year’s cast includes:

The Widow: Anna Marie Colecchi

Laura Painter: Sidne Laine Shipman

Thomas James Sweeney: Tony Belobrajdich

Jacob Toms: John Patalano

Percy Garland: Bolivar Compusano

Phyllis Garland: Tayler Cleveland

William Hite: Wesley Sadler

Crawford Kelly: Isaac Richardson

Frank Gilchrist: Tom Smithyman

La Roux Soles: Gina T. Rosso

George McClure: William Elder

Tour Sponsors:

McKeesport Mayor Michael Cherepko, Duane Junker of the McKeesport & Versailles Cemetery, Frazier Contracting & Plumbing, Dr. & Mrs. Ramon Lozano, Anne & Bob Messner, Minerva Bakery, MHS Staffing, Jonathan Stark, Noretta Willig, Ziebart of McKeesport

Event Sponsors:

Dr. Donald W. Beck, Barrier Protection Systems, Breitinger's Flowers, state Sen. Jim Brewster, state Rep. Austin Davis, Gilbert Funeral Home and Crematory, Howell Craft, Jim & Roxanne Humanic, Lampert's Market, William and Rosemarie Luptak, Precision Copy Products, Inc., Judy & Fred Sheridan, Keith & Sharon Soles, Smallies on the Yough, Jeff Sorick Heating & Cooling, Inc., Ann & Pat Toth

Friends of the Tour:

Robert Hauser, Joseph & Joanne Hoffman, Charles K. Jennings, Jr., Edward L. Kemp Company

Emily Pidgeon is a freelance writer from McKeesport. She may be reached at emily.pidgeon87@gmail.com.

Originally published September 11, 2020.

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