See historical figures of Montana’s past come to life at the second annual 2022 Voices of the Past event at Mountview Cemetery on September 24 and October 1. The Western Heritage Center and Billings Parks and Recreation made the event possible.
Yourbigsky sat down with Lauren Hunley, the community historian at the Western Heritage Center, to talk about this fun and interactive event in the cemetery. Seven paid actors portraying these historical figures were picked based on their physical appearance, attitude, and how they carried themselves. The Western Heritage Center personally researches each historical figure and types up a script for the actors to follow, ensuring copyright and maintaining the historic integrity of each figure.
“Each of these historic figures is a real person. They had thoughts, they had dreams, they had life experiences, very similar to you and I. This just gives us the opportunity to bring these stories to life in a really unique and fun way,” Hunley said.
P.B. and Mattie Moss are among the more well-known historic figures of the event that made their mark in the Billings community. There are also figures who many people may not know about but whose story is worth telling. One figure is Jessie Mahler, who homesteaded in the Pompey’s Pillar area as a single woman. She became a nurse, teacher, and after getting married, she naturally carried and gave birth to triplet boys. This was such a newsworthy event that the Montana governor even visited her to see her triplets.
In 1918, Jessie Mahler and her husband fell ill with the flu when her boys were almost two years old. She and her husband eventually died from the illness. Hearing Jessie Mahler’s story can connect with others who have experienced loss from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Nobody really knows her story, but it has so many parallels with our own experience in the community the last couple of years, ” Hunley said.
Other historical figures include J. G. Link, an architect and local leader who worked on St. Patrick’s Co-Catherdal and the Montana Capitol building. Dorothy Gray, the first woman landscape artist who designed Pioneer Park, is another historical figure at the event. Other historic figures sharing their story include Augusta Schuster and Dr. Frank Bell.
Kevin Kooistra, Executive Director of the Western Heritage Center, has been trying to perfect the idea of having actors in a cemetery for a while. For this event, respecting the space and making it as accessible to the community as possible was important. They have also made accommodations to fit ADA accessibility needs for Voices of the Past.
Another unique thing about Voices of the Past is that guests can navigate the experience independently. When they arrive at the event, there will be a brief information session explaining how everything works. They are then given a map showing where to find all seven historical figures on site. “We provide a lot of flexibility and freedom to our guests so that they are able to internalize and make the event something they enjoy too,” Hunley said.
Visitors also get to take a peek inside the cemetery’s mausoleum that J.G. Link designed and is also where his grave resides. The actor playing J.G. Link will be outside the mausoleum, telling his tales of the great things he did for the Billings community in the early years.
From humor to heartbreak, Voices of the Past has something for everyone to connect with and enjoy! There are three different ticket times for both dates. Tickets can be purchased online or at the Western Heritage Center on Montana Avenue.