Dead Reckonings

Vampires, specters, werewolves and witches all come out of the ground this time of year, and they all seem to be based in the boneyard, an eternally creepy place. But local author Linda Wommack is out to change that eerie outlook. According to Wommack, whose new book, From the Grave: A Roadside Guide to Colorado's Pioneer Cemeteries, is just hitting bookstore shelves, cemeteries are peaceful pastoral paradises. Just to prove the point, she'll be on hand Halloween afternoon for an irreverent trek through Fairmount Cemetery.

For Wommack, roaming through graveyards was her family's version of the Sunday drive. Her mother's interest in genealogy got the clan started on cemetery jaunts after she discovered that her father was a distant relative of Bob Womack, an early founder of the mining town of Cripple Creek. The family began rambling among the headstones of Evergreen Cemetery in Colorado Springs, where Womack is interred, and the habit stuck. "We'd call it a jigsaw," Wommack says. "We'd find one family plot and then try to figure out who was who."

As a result, Wommack has warm memories of cemeteries. Nothing much happened to change that view, she says, "except maybe when my mom fell in a grave when I was four. But even then, I think her scream was scarier than the actual incident."

Later, when Wommack became interested in Colorado history, she noted that although many Denver buildings and streets were named after various pioneers, the history books rarely told what happened to them. Three years of research in more than 300 Colorado cemeteries later, that's what Wommack's book attempts to do. Other authors, she says, simply walk the rows, noting where Joe Blow is buried and when he died. "I chose to tell you who Joe Blow is," Wommack says.

It wasn't easy. The research project often proved overwhelming, partly because some parts of the state covered history better than others. "Eastern Colorado, which is--sadly--so overlooked, was the hardest place to find information," she says. "They were just farmers and ranchers. Farther west was where the politicians and merchants and miners and gunfighters and prostitutes lived--the colorful characters." She doesn't know exactly which grave is the oldest but says she found "one lady who spanned parts of three centuries; she was born in 1796, lived through the 1800s, and died in 1902."

Wommack says that since she finished her book, the two questions she's asked most often are the inevitable ones: Who is the most fascinating individual she encountered in her research and which is the neatest cemetery she visited? "But I can't answer either one," she insists. "Every cemetery is unique in its own way, and the pioneers of Colorado all have their own parts in the state's history, whether you're talking about a rancher's wife or the first territorial governor. To pick out one would be to deny the others."

--Froyd

Cemetery Stroll with Dennis Gallagher, Tom Noel and Linda Wommack, 1-3 p.m. Oct. 31, Ivy Chapel, Fairmount Cemetery, 430 South Quebec Street, free, 303-556-4301.

 
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