Olathe & Southwest Joco

Olathe relives history in the cemetery

Chilly rain poured from the dark gray sky.

Large trees, looming over gravestones, swayed in the wind.

A group of parents and kids clutched umbrellas and splashed around the cemetery in rain boots.

Standing near his grave site, Herman Mahaffie grinned at the crowd.

“It could be worse, we could be knee deep in the trenches right now,” the World War I soldier joked.

Of course, it wasn’t the real Herman Mahaffie. It was an actor portraying him during Olathe’s annual Fall Cemetery Tour.

The event, which took place earlier this month, featured Mahaffie staff and volunteers dressed up in 19th century clothing, portraying people buried in Olathe Cemetery.

This year’s theme was veterans buried in Olathe. It focused on soldiers from the Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II.

Even though the weather was dreary, more than 200 people showed up for the tours.

“I thought it was neat to see history in person, rather than just be told it,” said Rebecca McCreight, a 10-year-old from Spring Hill. “It made it more fun. I learned a lot.”

Her mom agrees.

“The tour brings history alive and gives it a more personal touch,” said Beth McCreight. “It’s not scary whatsoever and the kids can relate.”

The Fall Cemetery tour, hosted by Mahaffie Stagecoach Stop and Farm, began in 1999 as a way to introduce local history to the public.

“Olathe is more than just a suburban powerhouse,” said Alexis Woodall, events coordinator for Mahaffie. “The tour really highlights how people from the past helped strengthen our city into what it is today. There is a lot of rich history here.”

Instead of making the tour spooky, in light of Halloween, Mahaffie staff presents the characters in a fun, historical fashion. After all, they want to be respectful, Woodall said.

In the past, themes have ranged from Quantrill’s Raid to the Mahaffie family.

“Olathe has been and continues to be a crossroads,” said Tim Talbott, site manager for Mahaffie. “So many people from different cultures and walks of life have lived here, and everyone has a story. We’ll always find something to tell.”

During this year’s tour, Talbott portrayed Lewis Challen, who served in the Spanish-American War.

Standing next to flickering lanterns and a wooden desk, Talbott captivated the tourists with his character’s adventures.

In the past 10 years he has been working on the tour, Talbott has seen attendance grow. He chalks up the popularity to the uniqueness of the activity.

“Not many people think of visiting a cemetery,” Talbott said. “It’s outside the norm. The setting is intriguing.”

In order to research each year’s theme and the cast of characters, Mahaffie staff conducts extensive research through Olathe Cemetery’s records, and also uses online resources.

And the work never gets old, Talbott said. In fact, it keeps getting more interesting.

Especially next year, he added. With the Mahaffie House and the Olathe Cemetery both turning 150 years old, next year’s tour will be one to remember.

“We’re going to feature a wide range of people from the Mahaffie family — grandmothers to grandsons,” he said. “It’s going to be fun.”