Historic Walking Tour

PBHS Drama Club helps breathe life into cemetery tour
Posted on 12/05/2023
Claire Funke portrays Mary Malissa Brown Christian.

Several Poplar Bluff High School students portrayed local historical figures during a cemetery tour that was designed as part of the community’s Walk-Tober events concluding last month.

Claire and Jack Funke, Drew Noble, Harley Stilwell and Virginiagrace Vandewarker depicted soldiers of WWI and WWII, a tornado victim, 19-century socialite and 1960s woman on Sunday, Nov. 5, at Poplar Bluff City and Woodlawn cemeteries.

Over 150 people participated in the walking tours, a grant-funded movement established by the Butler County Wellness Council through the Preventative Research Center to promote physical activity while celebrating Poplar Bluff’s rich history.

“This number exceeded all of our expectations, and I know this was largely in part [due] to our partnership with the Poplar Bluff Museum, Kati Ray, and the PBHS Drama Club students,” said Abby Hanner of the Butler County Community Resource Council, noting that extra timeslots needed to be added each weekend.

The history lessons, which also illuminated downtown’s roots as well as the devastating tornado of 1927, were led by Ray of the Poplar Bluff Museum board, who was credited for writing the scripts as well as leading the groups. Hanner reported that along with advertising and providing incentives for the fitness activities, the Heartland Moves grant funding was used to pave the remainder of the trail at Bacon Park.

Ray, who authored the book “Poplar Bluff Tornado: May 9, 1927,” explained how she reached out to Drama Club instructor Nick McDaniel in order to involve students in the reenactment portion of the events. Ray reflected: “They really brought history to life! They shared stories about the lives of historic Poplar Bluff citizens while dressed in period costumes.”

Virginagrace portrayed Annette Bulow Frere Seipel; Harley depicted a woman of the ‘60s discussing “Silent” George Couch; Drew represented Sgt. Ruie Treece; Jack played 1st Lt. Thomas Don Ferguson; and Claire – Mary Malissa Brown Christian. Additionally, Clinton Salyer of the museum board joined in, dressed as the late Jess Reynolds.

The individuals remembered—whom Ray referred to as characters, pioneers, leaders and heroes—in some instances have artifacts on display in the North Main Street museum, open to the public on Sunday afternoons. “Every building and cemetery monument has a story,” Ray stated.


Cutline: PBHS sophomore Claire Funke portrays Mary Malissa Brown Christian, a mother who lost two of her children as a result of exposure and injuries sustained in the tornado of 1927.

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