Name: Marcia Wazny.
Curious about headstones: Wazny, the manager of Bayview Cemetery since 2002, surprised herself by becoming an enthusiastic local historian as part of her 26-year career with Bellingham Parks and Recreation Department.
"I'm not really a historian. I'm not interested in genealogy or family history," she says. "But I couldn't help become aware of the cemetery's age, since it was founded in 1888, with more than 24,000 people here. I started noticing these names on headstones are familiar because they are street names in Bellingham. I couldn't help asking, 'Who are these people?'"
New idea: "What really caused cemetery tours to come to fruition was the hit we took in 2009 during the recession," Wazny says. "It's no secret; we lost $100,000 that year in retail sales because we became a discretionary expense as part of the death care industry. We cut $100,000 out of our budget for 2010 and had to lay off staff. So I asked myself, 'What else can I do?'
"The cemetery is museum, arboretum and nature reserve, as well as a resting place. The answer was tours of the cemetery, talking about the historic people who stood here, who are buried here."
Lively tours: "I get really animated, passionate and fairly theatrical during a tour," Wazny says. "I've received heartfelt feedback. I was inspired by 'Looking Back' by Dorothy Koert and Galen Biery. I would see a headstone, then I would look up their accomplishments.
"Over the past three years I have led several tours. I'll always remember how we had 54 people sign up for the first tour, more than twice what we expected."
Cemetery favorites: Space doesn't allow for all of Wazny's historical favorites in Bayview, including the more than 200 Civil War veterans; "Mother of Bellingham" Teresa Eldridge, the first female settler in 1853; and John Kastner, whose blacksmith-shop horseshoes can still be seen in front of The Bagelry, on Railroad Avenue.
But since Wazny enjoys poetry, she can't help but be fascinated by the graves of Washington poets Ella Higginson and Elizabeth Watts Henley.
"This gentleman asked me the location (of Henley's grave) and he turned out to be an Oregon book expert, John Henley, her son," Wazny says. "He sent me a book of her poetry."
To learn about upcoming tours at Bayview Cemetery, call the office, 360-778-7150, or check Bayview's website by going to cob.org and searching for "Bayview Cemetery."
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.