Hillsdale College archivist Linda Moore swears the Oak Grove Cemetery sometimes plays tricks on her.
“I know those graves don’t move, but I sure as heck have trouble finding them from year to year,” she said.
According to students, however, her Halloween cemetery tours are nothing but a treat.
Almost annually, Moore leads a group of students, faculty and staff, and community members on an illustrative tour visiting 18 tombs in the 157-year-old graveyard at North West and West Montgomery streets. This year, she’s holding one Monday from 3:30 – 5 p.m. The group will meet in the Dow Leadership Center’s parking lot before stepping back in time to the early years of the college.
Moore has led about eight tours in more than 10 years, holding one only when a group or individual requests it. Her tradition of visiting cemeteries, however, extends further back than that.
Growing up, Moore visited her grandmother in Michigan City, Indiana, 35 minutes from her hometown of Buchanan, Michigan. Her family would grab a bite to eat for lunch and then go to the graves of her mother’s family to honor and remember them, she said. Her grandmother would look at the dates to calculate the age at which the people buried there died.
“We always did that, visit the cemetery,” Moore said. “I don’t think it’s that common, but it’s something we always did.”
She said she would eventually develop an interest in history and genealogy, as well. In 1998, she took over the college’s archives from Professor Emeritus Jerry Fallon.
She said she learned of the local people buried in Oak Grove with connections to the college — students, faculty, administrators, board members, and donors.
“It dawned on me, in the early years, there was so much local involvement in the college,” Moore said. “I thought it would be interesting to do a kind of college tour.”
Using a 1970s book with a map labeling people in the cemetery, Moore selected some individuals she knew had interesting stories and created a route to walk by their final resting places.
She also compiled photos of many of the people she discusses to make the tour illustrative.
“They become more real, I think,” she said.
Several stories come from those with familiar names, like Mauck, Koon, and Slayton. Junior Anna Zemaitaitis said she thought it was neat to learn their histories.
“You live in the dorms, and you see the names, and you learn something about the people who built the school,” Zemaitaitis said. “We’re surrounded by these names anyway. It’s nice to know who it was.”
Junior Stacey Egger, who works in the college’s archives with Moore, agreed, adding that Moore combines well-researched information with fun factoids.
“There’s probably no one better to do the tour than her,” Egger said.
The tour has mostly remained consistent, but when Moore learns something interesting about a new person on the route, she will add that story to her repertoire.
“Fortunately for me, it doesn’t have to change,” she said. “New students are always coming in and can hear the same old stories.”
Some of her favorites are about past students who aren’t much different than those attending Hillsdale today, she said. Her favorite to tell is how secret societies led to the establishment of fraternities on campus after the faculty had banned them, Moore said.
She said she also likes discussing the literary societies — preludes to clubs that hold lectures, discussions, and debates on various topics today.
“Students were more closely connected to their literary society than even the college,” Moore said. “They illustrate the lifelong friendships students still feel at college. They certainly did in the early days, as well.”
But what is most noteworthy is the amount of support the college had from the surrounding community in its early days, Moore said. Before becoming nationally known, many Hillsdale supporters, administrators, and board members came from the area.
“People talk about the disconnect between the town and gown, and I guess it shows that it wasn’t always that way,” Moore said. “There were very many times in the early years the college wouldn’t have made it without the sacrifice of the people buried there. I think it’s fitting the students should acknowledge their gratitude to those people that made this institution possible.”
Egger said learning about the community’s connection with the college altered her perspective of her school.
“The supporters weren’t somewhere across the country,” Egger said. “They lived right here and helped build the school.”
Moore said she now knows people buried in the cemetery. Some are related to the college and others are not. The stories of those they rest among, however, are worth telling, she said.
“There’s a saying that no one ever actually dies until the last person who remembers them is gone,” Moore said. “I think that’s one way we’re keeping those individuals alive on campus and acknowledging the great debt the college owes them.”