Rhonda Reagan’s voice quivers ever-so-slightly as she reads a letter from a soldier who died in WWI.
The tour, which has about 400 visitors annually, is part of the Azalea Trails event that draws visitors from far and wide. Each year, actors in costume choose different people to portray who are buried in the cemetery.
The tours run from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m., with the last tour beginning at 4:30 p.m. Admission is $6, and the proceeds go to repairing broken headstones in the more than 160-year-old cemetery.
Though the cemetery has been a historical treasure-trove for decades, many details about the Baldwin family weren’t uncovered until this last year, said Jimmie Horton, who portrays Dr. Aaron “A. P.” Baldwin. Baldwin was Clara’s husband and Joseph’s father.
Dr. Ben Bridges uncovered the mystery of 1st Lt. Joseph Baldwin, the first Tylerite killed in World War I while he was researching Aaron for the Smith County Medical Society. Joseph’s body spent two years overseas after he was killed in action in France.
Many other graves in the Oakwood Cemetery are still shrouded in mystery, including graves of confederate and union soldiers, and graves in what was an African-American cemetery, Mrs. Herbst said.
Many of Tyler’s political leaders and leaders at the state level are buried in the cemetery as well, said Mrs. Herbst, including Horace Chilton, the first U.S. Senator from Tyler.
While Joseph was a celebrated war hero, less is known about his brother, Fred. He died a bachelor and Horton and Mrs. Reagan speculated about his life and the family dynamics.
For the people involved in the Spirits of Oakwood tour, it’s a labor of love and preservation.
“If we don’t save the history —” Horton said.
“There won’t be any,” Mrs. Herbst said.