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Dining with the Dearly Departed

Annual event visits graves of Trigg Countians, with actors sharing historical monologues

Dining with the Dearly Departed actors, from left, Bryan Blaylock, Jean Martin and David Hazelmyer, at last year's 1920s-themed garden party in Cadiz. Photo Paul Fourshee
Guests Jodi and Lynn Wilson brought along their 1922 Model T Fordor Sedan to the 2018 Dining with the Dearly Departed event in Cadiz. Photo: Paul Fourshee
Actor Bryan Blaylock plays a round of croquet at Dining with the Dearly Departed's 1920s-themed garden party event in Cadiz. Photo: Paul Fourshee
Casey Parrent, Cadiz, attended Dining with the Dearly Departed for the first time in 2018 and enjoyed dressing for the 1920s garden party. Photo: Paul Fourshee

“We have a tent in a cemetery and a little picnic—a box supper from a local caterer—then we go on a walking tour to visit gravesites,” says organizer Paul Fourshee of Dining with the Dearly Departed in Cadiz, Kentucky, which was begun in 2007.

The group researches stories of six to eight Trigg Countians and then scripts are written. Actors dress as those individuals and groups of 25 people walk grave to grave to hear monologues about these historical figures. Fourshee adds, “We only do deceased individuals, we do not do living people.”

He is also quick to point out that they can’t take credit for inventing this, as he is involved in another group who does a similar event. Fourshee says the Dining with the Dearly Departed has caught on and now sells out every year.

Everybody has an interesting story,” says Fourshee. “One of the guys this year was a Minor League Baseball player in the 1930s.We are also doing a father and son, and two brothers. They will have a dialogue and talk to each other.”

Each story lasts about five minutes, then the group moves on to the next grave. The entire process takes approximately 35-45 minutes, as three groups overlap eating while others go to the cemetery to hear stories. There’s also live acoustic music at the tent where people are socializing, so it’s a festive event.

The group’s goal is to do something unique each year, so the experience is always different. “We like to surprise the audience,” says Fourshee. “Early on, it took a long time for people to catch on to what the event was about. It has nothing to do with ghosts. This is a historical reenactment,” he explains. We specifically kept away from October on purpose.”

An element of surprise

Sometimes threads among the people being portrayed will naturally appear, and other times it comes as a complete surprise.

One year, Fourshee says actors portrayed people with unusual deaths: a shootout on Main Street in Cadiz; a man driving across a bridge that collapsed and he drowned; or the group of buddies who went fishing on the river planning to pitch in dynamite, but it went off in their boat.

“The biggest blowout we ever did was on a farm, which is owned by Kenny Rogers, a Methodist preacher.” Fourshee explains that the farm is famous because Edmund Bacon (1875-1866), who had previously served as President Thomas Jefferson’s overseer, bought the farm. He lived there 40 years and is buried there along with his family.

“We researched every person and every family who ever owned that farm: 12 entities. … We started with native Americans, the Shawnee Indians, then King George—Kentucky belonged to Virginia then—and Patrick Henry was the Governor,” says Fourshee. “Then we started in with who bought land.” Foushee says each family passed along a blue deed (prop) to the next family as the actors spoke.

In 2018, as planners started selecting people to portray, they realized that all the people had lived on Main Street in Cadiz. Then, after they began to pull the research together, they realized the people were alive at the same time during one 10-year-period, the 1920s. “They would have known each other,” says Fourshee. “So, we decided to do a 1920s garden party. We put a tent up on Main Street on a vacant lot and decorated.”

For the first time, the audience was encouraged to come dressed from that era. Dozens of guests showed up in pinstripe suits and flapper dresses, much to the delight of the planners. “We were astonished,” says Fourshee.

Casey Parrent of Cadiz attended last year for the first time, at her mom’s insistence, who has attended most of the events. “I absolutely loved it and can’t wait to go back,” says Parrent. “It was neat to hear all the stories of the people from beginning to end and learn about the area.”

The group also tries to contact the person’s family members, so they aware their ancestor is being portrayed, and also to invite them to the event. “Occasionally there will be no family members that we can locate. But, generally speaking, they are flattered that we chose their ancestor to portray,” says Fourshee.

Fourshee says they have lists and ideas for a couple of years. “People now will come to my office and say, ‘Have you ever thought about doing this…’”

Celebrating Trigg County’s bicentennial

Next year promises to be just as interesting. The 2020 event will tie to  Trigg County’s bicentennial, with actors portraying the founders and people instrumental in the organization of the county.

A hardback book covers the first six years of characters, 2007-2013. The 145-page book has a two-page spread on each person who has been portrayed. “If we have a photo of the original person, we include that, with a picture of the actor portraying the person, along with the script of the monologue,” says Fourshee.

The books are used as a fundraiser for the group. A second volume will be published next year, which will cover those from 2014-2020, including those portrayed for Trigg County’s bicentennial. “So it will kind of be like a history book,” adds Fourshee.

There are 75 tickets for each event. “The struggle is trying to keep it small enough that it’s intimate,” Fourshee says. “It’s a solo performance, one person at a time speaking directly to a small audience who is very close.”

Because there are a large number of older retirees in our community, the Saturday noon matinee is a sit-down event. Fourshee says, “We put a platform in the tent and actors do their monologues for the audience, so people do not have to traverse the whole cemetery.”

Held the third weekend in September, performances are Friday evening, Saturday matinee and Saturday evening. If tickets sell out—which they have for many years—a Thursday evening performance is added. Tickets are $20 and available at Janice Mason Art Museum, located at the Cadiz Community Arts Center, 71 Main Street.

Fourshee says that one of the most valuable qualities of the event is that “it puts the community on a very personal basis with our history. People say, ‘I had no idea…’” after hearing about the interesting lives led by Trigg Countians.

“We figure that everybody has one story,” says Fourshee.

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