Barbara Headle, senior instructor in the Department of History at UCCS, likes cemeteries. The memory-laden parcels that many avoid also provide information that can make history relevant to students.
“Cemeteries are mirrors of our community,” Headle said recently.
For the second year, as part of a service learning component for Headle’s course “Cemeteries, Legacies and American History,” UCCS students led events at the Fountain Fairview Cemetery culminating with an Oct. 12 cemetery crawl. The events raised almost $1,400 to help repair damage caused by vandals.
But this was no zombie, Halloween-style scare-the-daylights out of you fundraiser. Instead, Headle’s students combined multiple skills and used the cemetery as both a backdrop and a primary information source. A dowsing event in September and an Oct. 7 Murder and Mayhem event featuring a coroner’s inquest preceded the afternoon crawl where students braved dropping temperatures and noisy I-25 traffic to complete a class assignment.
“This was no term paper,” Headle said. “They lived history.”
Using a theme of Fountain’s earliest settlers, students researched lives using a variety of sources ranging from cemetery and other public records to accounts found at the Fountain Public Library, the Colorado Springs Pioneers Museum and the Fountain Historical Society. From there, the students created a historically accurate character, completed a costume, and re-enacted that character for more than six hours.
“The student becomes the person who is buried and tells the story of his or her life,” Headle said.
The characters ranged from a town marshal killed in the line of duty, to a prospector from Rhode Island who moved West in a quest for gold and became a successful rancher. The lives of women were told as well, including Maria Hurtado, one of two sisters kidnapped by the notorious Felipe Espinosa in the 1860s. She was later released and lived to be 96.
For the Murder and Mayhem event, recent alumna Mary Trotter played the role of Anna Pettingill whose suspicious death prompted a graveside coroner’s inquest.
“Back then, the jury – which included the husband’s mistress and some of his best friends – ruled her death a suicide,” Headle said. “When we re-enacted the case, the jury of visitors held up their hands and said it was a murder.”
Headle said her students took the assignments seriously, creating authentic costumes and patiently repeating their stories for those who toured the cemetery after paying an admission fee. The monies will be used to restore headstones damaged by vandals in the summer of 2012. A security camera also is on the cemetery’s wish list.
“They all earned A’s for the assignment,” Headle said. “They were all outstanding.”
Former students no longer seeking grades returned to help with the project. Headle heaped praise on them and on Ian Smith, program assistant, Department of History. Smith assisted in the story of the murdered town marshal, playing the part of past Fountain Mayor William Riddoch.
“Kim Sweetwood (a UCCS undergraduate and now chair of the Friends of Fountain Fairview Cemetery), was keeper of all my mental notes and head of the ‘don’t panic anyone’ committee,” Headle said. “Without her help in all of this, I would probably be a resident of Fairview myself.”