Historical tales and spooky trails

Birmingham Museum to host fall events

By: Tiffany Esshaki | Birmingham - Bloomfield Eagle | Published September 17, 2019

 The historical Greenwood Cemetery will host its fall tour Sept. 21, with docents in character to tell participants about the city’s earliest residents.

The historical Greenwood Cemetery will host its fall tour Sept. 21, with docents in character to tell participants about the city’s earliest residents.

Photo provided by Leslie Pielack, director of the Birmingham Museum

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BIRMINGHAM — Whether it’s ghostly legends or true tales from generations past, there’s something about fall that makes for good storytelling.

If you need fodder for the campfire, the Birmingham Museum has got you covered. The historians over there will be hosting plenty of opportunities this month to learn more about the city’s storied — and sometimes spooky — past.

First up will be an installment in a three-part joint lecture series at the Baldwin Public Library, 300 W. Merrill St., Sept. 19. Museum Director Leslie Pielack will highlight three generations of the Allen family and the mark they made on Birmingham during a crucial time in the city’s development.

“The Allens left their mark on the cultural, as well as the political, landscape of the city,” said Pielack in a press release. “They created a new home in a country estate-like setting that was really a clever mixture of a preserved historic structure with a modern twist.”

The result was the 1926 Allen House, the home of the Birmingham Museum. Despite a period of personal and economic turmoil in the 1910s-1930s, the Allens invested heavily in the quiet village of Birmingham and launched it into a fast-growing community.

The lecture will begin at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19, and will be the first of three in the series. The free joint lecture series events are always popular, Pielack said, so registration is encouraged and can be done on the library’s website, baldwinlib.com/calendar.

Those who prefer to take their history al fresco can join museum volunteers at Greenwood Cemetery on Saturday, Sept. 21, for a tour of the city’s first settlers in their final resting place.

Tours of the Greenwood Cemetery happen just twice a year, and the fall tour is always a big draw, with many of the docents leading participants through the oldest part of the property in character.

That includes John West Hunter and Elijah Willits — you might recognize those surnames from street signs around town — and the earliest occupants of the cemetery, Polly and Cynthia Ann Utter, who are infamously murdered in their home in 1826.

“We are learning new things about our early settlers all the time,” said George Getschman, a board member of the Friends of the Birmingham Museum, which coordinates the cemetery tour program. “In some ways, it is hard to keep up with the new information we continue to uncover, especially relationships between people and other connections.”

For example, one of the subjects of the fall tour is Olivia Prindle Hamilton, the wife of pioneer settler John Hamilton. As it turns out, she was the youngest of three sisters, all of whom married early Birmingham settlers.

“In the past, visitors would simply pass the grave and read ‘Olivia Hamilton’ without having any idea the rich context and implications of three sisters coming to the same wilderness with their husbands, and how that affected their lives,” said Pielack in an email. “Their connections to each other become an important way to tell the bigger story.”

The tour begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21. Tickets cost $10 for adults, $5 for students and $20 for families of four. Greenwood Cemetery is located on Oak Street, two blocks west of North Old Woodward Avenue. Tours begin at the east gate, rain or shine. There is no parking in the cemetery.

For more information on both events, call the Birmingham Museum at (248) 530-1928 or visit bhamgov.org/museum.

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