Moonlight Tour of the Texas State Cemetery

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Jason Walker, director of research at the Texas State Cemetery, and Will Erwin, senior historian, stand at the graves of authors Walter Webb and Fred Gipson.

Photo Credit: Emily Ng | Daily Texan Staff

This Saturday, authors Jason Walker and Will Erwin will be hosting a tour through what Walker believes is “the most unique historic site in the state.” It’s not a museum, a battlefield, or the former residence of an important Texan, but rather the final residence of hundreds of important Texans. It’s the Texas State Cemetery.

Although the tour will be held by moonlight the weekend before Halloween, the event is not meant to be a search for spirits. Rather, it is a celebration of what Walker and Erwin believe to be one of the best museums in the state.

The tour is part of the Texas Book Festival’sLit Crawl” event, which takes place at venues across East Austin after the main book festival events close.

“Very, very rarely are people allowed to walk around the state cemetery after dark,” Erwin said. “Usually, if people are there after dark, they’re breaking the law.” The tour offers attendees the chance to experience the state cemetery by moonlight without risking arrest. 

Walker serves as the director of research at the Texas State Cemetery, while Erwin serves as the senior historian. The cemetery staff is small, however, so both of them multitask.

“It’s a very small organization, so it’s hard to do one job,” Walker said.

In addition to their regular duties, the two also guide tours, help arrange funerals and maintain the website. Erwin is also the cemetery photographer.  

The two also write books. Walker and Erwin co-wrote “Texas State Cemetery,” published last year by the University of Texas Press.

“It was a long time in the works,” Walker said of the book.

The book came out of a passion the two had for the history of the cemetery and “a lot of research.” That’s not surprising, considering the scope of Texas history covered within the graveyard’s grounds. The cemetery was established in the winter of 1851 by an act of the Texas Legislature. Since then, it has served as the burial ground not only for important political figures but also for cultural icons, the Texas Rangers and educators and academics (including U.T’s own J. Frank Dobie). 

In researching and writing the book, Erwin and Walker recorded not only the history of the cemetery but also the history of the people buried there. Walker’s favorite part of the research was diving into Walter Prescott Webb’s work on the Texas Rangers. He also loved learning more about former Texas Gov. Bob Bullock, who he said “was really polarizing on a lot of issues but always had Texas’ best interests at heart.”

Walker’s favorite “person,” what both he and Erwin call the graves, is Willie Wells, a baseball player who became famous playing in the Negro League in the 1920s. “I just love that guy,” Walker said.

You get the feeling that both Erwin and Walker appreciate the cemetery most because it allows them not only to learn about the great figures of Texas history but to also pay them their respects.

“You walk through Texas history at the cemetery,” Walker said. “The folks that are buried out here contributed so much to Texas history and culture that I think they would be honored that people are coming here and wanting to experience this.”

Printed on Thursday, October 25, 2012 as: State cemetery offers lively history