Finney County Historical Society holding Fall Picnic and cemetery tours

Garden City Telegram
Johnetta Hebrlee, left, leads a group to the next stop, marked by a latern, during a past Historic Walking Tour of Valley View Cemetery. tickets for this year's tour go on sale Sept. 27.

Reservations are open until Sept. 29 for the Finney County Historical Society’s 2021 Fall Picnic, and ticket sales will open Sept. 27 for the eighth annual Historic Walking Tours of Valley View Cemetery.

The annual picnic is scheduled at 1 p.m. Oct. 3 in the grandstand meeting room at the Finney County Fairgrounds in Garden City, with a presentation by Lara Brehm, executive director of the Boot Hill Museum in Dodge City.

Finney County Historical Society Picnic

The public is welcome to join FCHS members at the event.  Admission is free, but reservations are necessary by the deadline.  The number to call is 620-272-3664 and reservations may also be made in person at the Finney County Museum, 403 S. Fourth Street, where exhibit hours are 1-5 p.m. seven days weekly.

Those planning to attend is asked to bring a side dish, salad or dessert to share.  Fried chicken, beverages and table service will be provided.  Those attending should exercise their own best judgement about precautions and virus immunity.  Masks and hand sanitizer are not required but will be available.  

The Boot Hill Museum, which Brehm leads today, can trace its roots to an Old West cemetery setting in the 1920s, followed by an initial building in 1947 and the first Front Street replica structures in 1958.  Notoriety ballooned after the premiere of the 1955-75 “Gunsmoke” TV series.  The museum, dedicated to Dodge City’s days as a rough and tumble Cowtown in the 1870s-80s, recently underwent major renovations.

The Sunday picnic will conclude with a donation drawing, offering cash and merchandise prizes provided by a number of businesses, individuals, families and organizations.  Tickets for the raffle will be available at the event and through invitations sent to society members.  Proceeds will be used to support exhibits and programs at the museum.  Advance raffle ticket sales are also under way at the museum at $1 each or 12 for $10.

Finney County Historical Society Cemetery Tours 

The eighth annual cemetery tours are scheduled at 6 and 8 p.m. on Oct. 7, 8 and 9, offering a trove of historical information, as well as the chance to meet a few figures from the community’s 142-year past.

Established in 1883, the cemetery includes approximately 14,000 graves and serves as the final resting place for many of the community’s founders, early leaders and citizens. The tours are hosted in partnership by the cemetery and the FCHS.  They’re sponsored by Aaron and Chris Kucharik. Each will be led by Johnetta Hebrlee, Finney County Museum education coordinator.

Tickets are $15 per person, with cash or checks accepted.  They will be sold in advance only and not at the site.  Sales will be open seven days weekly at the museum, 403 S. Fourth Street in Finnup Park, while they last.  Exhibit hours there are 1-5 p.m. seven days weekly, via the front entrance; with offices open 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays, via the north door.  Tickets won’t be sold prior to Sept. 29.

The tours are geared for adults, and each group is limited in size to enhance the experience.  Tickets are sold first come-first served and have quickly sold out each previous year.

Each tour will run approximately 90 minutes, including stops at 10 to 12 gravesites and memorials, though the route changes annually.  Volunteer re-enactors will emerge at certain points to portray figures from the 19th and early 20th Centuries.

Ticket holders should gather at the cemetery office.  Parking will be available east of the office, inside the cemetery off Third Street.  Those who attend are welcome to bring flashlights, and should be dressed and prepared for the weather and for a vigorous walk. Face masks are welcome but not required.  As with the picnic, those attending should exercise their own best judgement about precautions and virus immunity.

While they’re taking place in October, the tours have nothing to do with ghosts or goblins.  The emphasis is on history, not Halloween.

“There are a lot of stories to tell about the people who have made our community what it is today,” Hebrlee said.  “You might not realize it, but a visit to the cemetery is a great way to discover some of those stories.”  

Established 138 years ago, the cemetery has been operated by the city since about 1940.  While not the first or only site for graves in Finney County, it is the largest, covering 40 acres with 40 more in reserve.