There’s a lot to learn in a cemetery.
In Wytheville’s St. Mary’s Cemetery, for example, there is a large statue of the Virgin Mary in prayer inside a picturesque cave, or grotto. Below the monument are the names of the women buried beneath.
“Most people don’t know about the Sisters of the Visitation,” said Frances Emerson, director of museums for the town of Wytheville.
The sisters belonged to a convent that, along with a Catholic school, took up several acres of land on North Street between Fifth and Fisher streets. Eventually, the convent membership dwindled, forcing the nunnery to close. The buildings became brick apartments, which were eventually torn down.
Sisters who died while serving at the convent were buried there. When the convent closed, they were reinterred in St. Mary’s Cemetery, located so close to Wytheville’s East End Cemetery that most people don’t realize there are two cemeteries on the site off of Peppers Ferry Road.
Not only are the sisters buried at St. Mary’s, the original St. Mary’s Catholic Church was once there as well. The church is now on Main Street.
The tale of the Sisters of the Visitation is just one of the many stories that will be told during the town of Wytheville’s Cemetery Tour: Forgotten Stories. During the event, local residents, including Mayor Beth Taylor, will be dressed in period costumes and will relay stories about people buried in three of the town’s cemeteries: East End, St. Mary’s and Oakwood Cemetery, an African-American cemetery also on Peppers Ferry Road.
The cemetery tour is an off-shoot of last year’s Downtown Spirit Tour, during which residents in costume told stories about downtown.
There were logistic issues and problems with traffic noise during the Spirit Tour, Emerson said. But there was also a lot of interest in local cemeteries, so museum employees and volunteers decided on a cemetery tour.
“The tour will focus on parts of our history that a lot of people don’t know about,” Emerson said. “It won’t be about the prominent people in town everybody knows about, but will concentrate on everyday people.”
Emerson said she, museum curator Kay Early, and local historians John Johnson and Jim Spraker walked through the cemeteries to determine who should be featured in the tour. They returned and started researching the people they selected, from a beloved family physician to an Irish immigrant.
Six people from each cemetery are highlighted. They lived in different periods of time, from the 1800s, to the early part of the 20th century.
In the St. Mary’s Cemetery, there will be a 10-foot square canvas photo of the original St. Mary’s Catholic Church in the spot where it originally stood.
“You can still see where it once was,” Emerson said. “It was a pretty white, frame building. We’ll have the photo of the church set up so people will get the feel of what it was like.”
Tours will be held at 3 p.m., 3:45 p.m., 4 p.m., 4:45 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6. Participants will ride tour buses to the cemeteries and will depart from the Heritage Preservation Center, 115 W. Spiller St.
Tickets are $20 each. There is a limit of 60 participants, and reservations are required. Call 276-223-3330.
To reach Millie Rothrock, call 276-228-6611, ext. 35, or email email@example.com.