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Dead Men Do Tell Tales

For Halloween, Long Beach notables come back from the grave to explain how they died. Locals dress and play the parts.

October 30, 2005|David Pierson | Times Staff Writer

Looking resplendent wearing Edwardian ensembles, the Hume family did their best Saturday to raise the Huffman family from the dead.

They spoke of the Huffmans' existence nearly 100 years ago as a wealthy Long Beach clan, the shiny new car the family was showing off one Sunday afternoon in 1913, and the moment Carl Huffman got the car stuck on the tracks before a locomotive plowed over his family.

"It was a new car. I wasn't used to the controls," said Ed Hume, channeling the remorse the more superstitious may believe still burdens Carl Huffman's soul.

The Huffmans were among more than a dozen of Long Beach's more colorful expired citizens who were given a chance Saturday to have their stories told again, decades after they were lowered into the ground at the city's two oldest burial grounds -- the conjoined Municipal and Sunnyside cemeteries on East Willow Street.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday November 02, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
History tour -- An article in Sunday's California section about a cemetery tour in Long Beach identified Bob Foster as president of Southern California Edison. Foster stepped down Sept. 30 and will retire from the company at the end of the year.

In the 10th installment of an annual Halloween tradition, historical society members, budding actors, regular residents and even a mayoral hopeful donned vintage attire and stood by the headstones of their subjects to deliver five-minute monologues to hundreds of visitors who paid $12 to learn about figures who influenced the city's fledgling years. The money benefits the historical society.

There was the former fire chief who, responding to what turned out to be a false alarm, became the first in the department to die in the line of duty; a stuntwoman who plummeted to her death when a parachute she was testing for her husband failed to open; a man who spoke about the birth of a thriving black community; and the so-called "Bingo Baron" whose caddish behavior brought lowbrow to Long Beach.

"We chose the best stories from the past nine years," said Roxanne Patmor, a Long Beach Historical Society board member who pored over volumes of newspaper clippings and books in the last four months to write the 11 vignettes acted out Saturday. "These people are forgotten. Who is going to remember someone named 'Kid Mexico'?"

Bob Foster didn't. But he read notes about Tod "Kid Mexico" Faulkner in the morning and transformed himself into the salacious saloon owner.

"Anyone want to win a little money and not tell your spouse?" asked Foster wearing a double-breasted suit and 10-gallon hat. "Anyone want to drink? Dance? Have fun? I'm your guy."

Faulkner was a boxer from New Mexico and a self-made millionaire who died in 1986. His bowling alleys, taxi dance studios and mansions were the places to be during the 1930s and 1940s for politicians, reporters and Hollywood celebrities.

"I knew all the movers and shakers in Sacramento," said Foster, who in real life is president of Southern California Edison and is running for mayor of Long Beach. "People say I bought these politicians. You can't buy what's not for sale. I'm not going to say there wasn't a little rentin' going on."

After Foster was done, Leslie Nanasy, a Long Beach resident on her first cemetery tour, said, "Hopefully, he'll follow the law if he's elected."

Not everyone was moonlighting as a historical character. Linda Midgett is a full-time historical re-creationist who performs in libraries, for civic groups and the Long Beach Playhouse. She related the life and tragic death of Ethel Knutsen Broadwick, a Minnesotan who moved to Long Beach with her family and began performing stunts on airplanes with her daredevil aviator husband.

In 1920, at the age of 23, she took her last flight. During a jump in San Francisco she was testing a new parachute her husband had designed.

"I pulled, I struggled. It never opened and I crashed to the ground," said Midgett, wearing a khaki flight outfit and goggles. "I died instantly."

To the east and through a chain-link fence that separates the privately owned Sunnyside Cemetery from the city-owned Municipal Cemetery was Becky Rounds, a former stage actress who was bringing to life Dora Czerny, a German immigrant who moved to Long Beach sans her husband in 1887.

"Records don't show what happened to him," Rounds said. "Since it's Halloween, let's say he died mysteriously."

What was even more mysterious was the fire that destroyed a hotel Czerny worked at as a housekeeper. In its place, Czerny operated a bathhouse -- not of the prurient variety, but actually a business that rented bathing suits for men and women.

"Women wore layer upon layer of wool," Rounds said. "The suits would weigh 20 pounds in the water. The skirts had to be weighed down so they would not float up and reveal your nether regions."

The business blossomed and she turned to real estate, becoming perhaps the first woman to own property in Long Beach.

If Czerny represented one of the city's more remarkable businesspeople, then J.E. Shrewsbury was one of Long Beach's favorite civil servants.

The city's second fire chief was credited with modernizing the department by replacing horses with engines and buying hose wagons. He was played by Charlie Basham, another sometime actor who is a safety manager at Southern California Edison.

Rushing to a false-alarm fire in 1916, Shrewsbury, 49, became the first Long Beach firefighter to die in the line of duty.

"A chemical truck T-boned me on Ocean Boulevard and Broadway," said Basham. "I'm not saying anything was going on, but the guy in the chemical truck would become the next fire chief."

For his funeral, 2,000 people paid their respects, including 400 firefighters who traveled from as far away as San Diego and San Bernardino. As a final touch, three biplanes flew overhead and dropped flowers.

"I'd like to think I'm that beloved," Basham said afterward.

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