The historic Columbia Cemetery became more than a burial ground on Memorial Day; it served as an opportunity to hear from the people who helped shape the city.

As part of History Comes Alive on Monday afternoon, seven actors stationed throughout the downtown cemetery performed brief historical monologues as significant figures from 19th century city history.

This year, they were:

  • Victor Barth, a Prussian immigrant who built a clothing business;
  • Jefferson Garth, a landowner, businessman and Columbia City Council member;
  • David H. Hickman, a legislator who supported a bill to create public middle and high schools in the state;
  • Henry Kirklin, who was born into slavery and became a prize-winning gardener and horticulturalist;
  • Mary Hale Lafon, an architect who designed Calvary Episcopal Church after a fire destroyed the original church;
  • Helen Guthrie Miller, a suffragist and founding member of the League of Women Voters;
  • Frederick Niedermeyer, who invested in real estate, owned the first automobile company in the city and served as mayor.

The actors stood at the burial place of the historic figure they represented, put themselves into their character’s shoes and explained how they contributed to the development of Columbia.

Craig Yager, who played Garth, said he participated because he loves performing and was curious about local history.

“I’ve done a lot of community theater around Columbia,” Yager said. “It gives me a chance to learn about the historical characters of Columbia.”

The performances also breathed a human story into the names on city buildings, streets and the pages of history books.

Jan Mees, a longtime educator in Columbia who recently retired from the Columbia School Board, said she’s attended the event since it started three years ago.

“I think they were surprised the first year at how many people were here,” Mees said. “I used to work at Hickman High School, and I never knew a lot of this stuff about David H. Hickman.”

History Comes Alive also provides an opportunity for several organizations to work together. The Stephens College Theatre Department donated costumes, the Boone County History and Culture Center directed the actors and the Downtown Rotary Club helped staff the event.

Rotarian Lisa Thomas volunteered for the first time this year, though she has attended before.

“I think it’s a wonderful opportunity that I don’t know a lot of people take advantage of,” Thomas said.

The event is sponsored by the Friends of the Historic Columbia Cemetery each Memorial Day to honor significant figures in the city’s history.

  • General assignment reporter, summer 2019 Studying magazine editing Reach me at, or in the newsroom at 882-5700.

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