A ghost of Frances Seely Webb stood by her headstone at the Highland Cemetery in Casper, next to the grave of her father. He was a pioneer of Casper and a remarkable man, Audrey Cotherman said last week as she demonstrated how she’ll bring to life the longtime local newspaperwoman from Casper’s past.

Seely Webb is among several real-life characters to meet along along the Casper Theater Company’s annual Cemetery Tour, set for Friday and Saturday at Highland Cemetery. The tours feature actors portraying the past residents who helped build and shape Casper, and even some who made local history with nefarious deeds.

This year’s tour features all new stories followed by warm beverages and cookies. Audiences will gather at dusk with the guide, a resident of the cemetery himself and its founder. The Rev. Jim Shumard as C.K. Bucknum will tell the story of why he donated the land for Casper’s new cemetery in the early 1890s after the death of his young wife.

The tour explores the symbols found on many headstones that denote religious faiths, military service, societies like the Odd Fellows, and even the meaning behind images of various flowers and lambs, which often decorate children’ graves, said Casie Peppersack, who will co-guide the tour. She’ll give a brief histories of headstones with familiar Casper names like Morad, Tripeny, Brooks and Henning, and what they contributed to Casper. Many were part of Casper from it’s beginning. Some longtime Casperites may even be able to contribute to some of their stories, Peppersack said.

“You drive down the streets and you don’t think twice about who they were named after,” she said. “And you come on tours like this and it just kind of clicks. And it gives people a chance to know where they live better and maybe they’ll spread it; and it just kind of keeps history alive — a little appreciation for where you came from.”

Cotherman chose to bring to life the colorful character she knew during Seely Webb’s newspaper career. Cotherman’s portrayal is based on her research at the Casper College Western History Center and a few of her own memories. Seely Webb reported on several groups Cotherman was involved in, including the League Of Women’s Voters. It seemed almost everyone in Casper knew Seely Webb, Cotherman recalled.

Among stories Cotherman will tell is how longtime state legislator Edness Kimball Wilkins in her days as the newspaper’s society editor asked Seeley Webb to cover women’s news while she was away but then married and left the job. So Seeley Webb stayed and for years as the society editor.

Webb is far from the only Casper personality who will be featured in the tours. Babbs Aldridge will portray Bernadine (Scherck) Reed “a saucy personality” who died in 2014 at age 101. Aldridge tells of how Reed followed her brother to Washington, D.C., and landed a job in the Office of Reconstruction Finance and had adventures with a cousin — including narrow escapes from speakeasies. Later, she took over the insurance portion of her father’s real estate business, became the first woman on the board of the Wyoming Independent Insurance Agents Association and created the Insurance Women of Wyoming. She was instrumental in preserving the statue outside of the old courthouse building as well as the oldest church in Casper, now at the Wyoming fairgrounds.

“I think she was a little ahead of her time,” Aldridge said after the rehearsal.

Nancy Engstrom as Francis Hodge will tell the story of early Casper doctor Joseph Benson. She will list his accomplishments and one fault, a penchant for what he called “the relaxation beverage.” She’ll tell the audience he’d often be invited to sleep it off in the county jail, where his escape scheme led to an untimely death.

Despite her admiration for the handsome doctor, Engstrom’s description may leave the audience in doubt of his credentials — especially when she mentions his attempt to perform a postmortem examination on a patient who was still alive, Engstrom said.

The audience is encouraged to talk with the ghosts after their stories, Shumard said. Past attendees have added to the experience with questions he never expected.

“They asked good questions,” he said. “They were engaged; they laughed.”

The tours spotlight lesser-known history, like Casper’s first convicted murderer. John Conaway wasn’t a bad guy until the night of Sept. 20, 1890, actor Gabriel Cisneros said. A local dance hall owner brought a gun for the bartender to keep order, but instead it triggered his life of crime.

“That’s what I got most out of this experience,” Cisneros said, “was learning a little bit more of Wyoming history and the people that actually made Casper the way it was, the way it is.”

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Follow reporter Elysia Conner on Twitter @erconner


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