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    Actors give spirited tour of cemetery

    The Tarpon Springs Historical Society puts visitors face to face with historical figures at Cycadia Cemetery.

    [Times photo: Bill Serne]
    Arianne Payne, dressed as historical figure Viola Beeckman who died in 1937, leads a tour of the Cycladia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs.

    By KATHERINE GAZELLA

    © St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000


    TARPON SPRINGS -- Capt. Charles D. Webster, Union Army soldier, stood next to his own grave Saturday and told the crowd a little about himself.

    "I died in March of 1907 and was buried next to this beautiful oak tree," he said.

    The old soldier addressed the audience standing around him, and chastised the people wearing shorts -- or "trousers with no legs to them."

    "We do have ordinances in town against that kind of thing," he cautioned.

    Webster -- as portrayed by actor Eric Steffy -- was one stop on a lively cemetery tour Saturday morning. Actors playing the parts of famous figures from Tarpon Springs history stood next to the grave sites of the town's first female doctor, the first pharmacist and a murdered town marshal.

    For the second year, the Tarpon Springs Historical Society organized the Spirits of the Pioneers tour at Cycadia Cemetery. Dozens of people attended the tour and watched history come to life at the old cemetery.

    "I think it's a great idea. It's too bad most school kids can't come out and see this," said Erla Steffy of Palm Harbor.

    Arianne Payne stayed in character as Viola P. Beekman, who helped care for the cemetery in the late 1800s.

    "My ashes were scattered all over the cemetery, so I got them all back together today," she said.

    Dressed in a wide-brimmed green hat, old-style dress and a shawl, Carol Mountain played the part of Mary Jane Safford, the first female doctor in Florida. When the town was settled, she said, there was an ordinance that people had to be clothed when they bathed.

    "We didn't want this to be a rustic type of town," she said.

    Indeed, several of the actors talked about a sophisticated city with impressive settlers.

    Anson P.K. Safford, one of the city's founding fathers and the brother of Mary Safford, was a former territorial governor of Arizona. Webster, the former Union soldier, started the "Old Reliable Drugstore," the first pharmacy in the area. Dr. Andrew P. Albaugh, who used to drive a horse and buggy to make house calls, was a pioneer physician in the city.

    Not all the city's forefathers were so refined, though. Town Marshal Rube T. Jones, who wore a solid gold badge, was a controversial figure who was said to have an itchy trigger finger.

    "I was elected marshal 12 times. One of the times I was elected, I was in jail," said Paul Vivalo, a cemetery maintenance worker playing the role of Jones.

    Vivalo stood next to a makeshift grave marker with a handwritten sign noting Jones' year of death, 1921, when he was murdered. For reasons nobody is sure of, Jones' grave was never marked.

    Playing the role of Anson Safford, retired veterinarian Jim Payne decided not to dwell too much on the controversial figures from the city's past. He waved his arm at the actor playing the distinguished physician Albaugh.

    "Quite a contrast with Mr. Jones," he said. "Thankfully, we had Dr. Albaugh's type."

    -- Staff writer Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or gazella@sptimes.com.

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