By Anne McKee
The Meridian Star
The service ended as three released doves circled the cemetery in flight, as if they were leading a parade, and I think they were – a parade celebrating the life of a true southern gentleman, Mr. W. Walton Moore, Jr.
No one wanted to leave the cemetery, or so it seemed. It was, as if they were to leave, the stories would be forgotten. But can one forget a friend with the “gift” of laughter or a person, perhaps even just an acquaintance, who upon entering a room made the place feel comfortable and cozy, like a visit from a favorite uncle.
Oh, the stories … I have one, no, I have two – well, make that one hundred or more of Mr. Moore’s stories. I first met him in 1993. Mr. Moore was on his Rose Hill quest and in a mighty way. You see he, along with several volunteers, had “saved” Rose Hill Historic Cemetery. That’s right – saved the marble orchard from destruction, caused by neglect. It wasn’t that someone purposely stopped tending the cemetery, but rather, it was a lack of committed volunteers. Mr. Moore was the mainstay of cleaning, repairing, and documenting the many burials there. So on this morning in 1993, Mr. Moore was ready to show off the cemetery and he was searching for volunteers to help with the effort. He asked, “You ever been to Natchez for their historic costumed tour? We need a tour like that in Rose Hill.”
He continued with his dream for Rose Hill. “Rose Hill is the best kept secret in Meridian and it shouldn’t be!” He longed for everyone to enjoy the historic significance of the resting place for many Meridianites, who died during the 1800s and beyond. He shared with me on that day he just didn’t know what to do about promoting the cemetery. It seemed no one was really interested in helping him further the growth of the place, as a tourism event or as an educational opportunity. He was positive the crowds would come. He needed someone to help with organization and promotion to “get the word out.”
I was intrigued, however my time was short in 1993, but I never forgot.
It was in 2009 when I received a call from a storytelling friend in Jackson. My friend planned to bring a group through Meridian and was searching for storytelling-type-entertainment. That’s when I remembered Rose Hill. I called Mr. Moore and we went to work immediately. The first tour was in 2010, with the fifth anniversary tour planned for September 27, 2014. We have had between 1,000 and 2,000 people in attendance each year – all ages and ethnicities. On that first night in 2010, Mr. Moore and our entire group of volunteers could not believe the large numbers, who attended. We had discussed if we had 200 then we would consider the tour a great success. The tour has become a model for Governor Phil Bryant’s Mississippi Creative Economy – teaching history and heritage through the arts of storytelling and drama, also bringing tourists to Meridian -- eating in restaurants, renting motel rooms, and shopping.
This week, as I attended Mr. Moore’s service, it was bitter-sweet. Meridian has lost a real storyteller, who loved the stories he told. The new Rose Hill Director, Richard Whitehead, will continue the tradition and is available to give private tours, upon request. The annual costumed tour is always the last Saturday in September. Mark your calendar.
Because I am limited on space, I cannot share but one “Mr. Moore story” with you today. He asked, “Do you know why the Confederate headstones are pointed? That’s so the Yankees won’t sit on them.”
Not long ago I remember reading a description pertaining to a generous man, with many dedicated friends. This person said that his friend (a close personal friend) had at least 200 people, who thought they numbered among the man’s 25 best friends.
This could have been Walton Moore. I’m pretty sure I was one of the 25.
Farewell Mr. W. Walton Moore, Jr. – gone, but not forgotten.
Anne McKee is a writer and storyteller. See her website: www.annemckee.net