Nashville City Cemetery 20th Annual Living History Tour

Cemetery residents come alive to tell stories and secrets from the “Wild, Wild Western Frontier” of late 18th and early 19th century Nashville.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Nashville City Cemetery Association (NCCA) invites the community to hear first-hand stories from residents buried in the city’s oldest cemetery as part of its 20th annual Living History Tour on Saturday, Oct. 12, featuring important figures who fought through daunting challenges to help advance the young city in its earliest days.

This year’s tour, titled “If Tombstones Could Talk: Triumph and Tragedy from the Wild, Wild Western Frontier,” will feature volunteers dressed in full costume, portraying Nashville citizens who faced disease, violence and more as they built Nashville into a leading southern city on the fringe of settled America. Guests can expect to spend about an hour walking with guides through the cemetery to visit each storyteller, with the afternoon tour running from 2-4 p.m. and the night tour––brought back by popular demand––running from 6-8 p.m.

Eighteenth and early nineteenth-century Nashville was the scene of triumph and tragedy on a level difficult to comprehend in modern times. The stories from all walks of life can be shocking and inspiring -- but always educational -- ranging from:

  • James and Charlotte Robertson, who endured a treacherous journey including Indian attacks, disease, hunger, and bitter cold, to lead the establishment of Nashville.
  • Captain William Driver, who went to sea at 13, was a captain by age 21 and sailed around the world twice before settling in Nashville and later supporting the Union Army in the Civil War.
  • Victims of the cholera outbreak of 1833, which took 174 lives across all demographics, from prominent citizens to penitentiary inmates.
  • Alfred Hume, a Nashville native who developed our city’s public school system after visiting Philadelphia, New York, Boston and other eastern cities in the early 1850s to gather best practices.
  • Simon the Jockey, brought to America as an enslaved child who became a talented horse racer, beating the formidable Andrew Jackson on several occasions.
  • Governor William Carroll, who survived two wars and a notable duel to lead the state and bring the General Jackson, Nashville’s first steamboat, to the Cumberland River.
  • Mabel Lewis Imes, who was raised in New England by wealthy relatives, where she took voice lessons and as a result, became a founding Fisk Jubilee Singer and toured the world at the age of just 13.

Fred Zahn, a historic preservationist with the Metropolitan Historic Zoning Commission, has been portraying characters in the Living History Tour for a decade. This year, he will represent Wilkins Tannehill, a former mayor of Nashville, newspaper editor, and grandmaster mason.

“The Living History Tour is a unique chance to make these names, dates, and markers real again, especially for kids,” Zahn said. “It’s incredibly impactful when a visitor realizes that all the folks buried around them had families, jobs, and good and bad days, just like we do today. It’s fun to see people make that tangible connection with the past through the presentation.”

The Tour coincides with the unveiling of the NCCA’s new 28-stop tour app, available for free through the “Tour Buddy” app on Apple and Android devices. This self-guided audio tour leads guests through the cemetery and provides biographies for select residents, as well as pictures and extra information. Visitors can access this tour at any time.

Tickets for the Living History Tour are $5 for individuals, and children 10 and under are free. Attendees are encouraged to purchase them through Eventbrite for a fast entry, but day-of tickets may also be purchased with cash or credit at the front gate at the corner of 4th Ave S. and Oak St. Free parking and shuttle service will be provided by Fort Negley Park at 1100 Fort Negley Blvd. from 1:30-9 p.m.

The Nashville City Cemetery Association is a non-profit whose mission is to protect, preserve, restore, and educate the public about Nashville’s premier outdoor history museum, the Nashville City Cemetery. For more information, visit