Lafayette County student performing in Nationally-recognized cemetery tour

Published 12:13 pm Thursday, April 6, 2023

COLUMBUS – A cemetery tour by candlelight among historic gravesites may seem like the setting for a Hollywood horror movie, but one such tour takes place far from California and involves history rather than horror. 

The setting for this performance is Friendship Cemetery, located in Columbus.  And, Ava Noe from Lafayette County is among the historical performers.

This year, students from the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science are producing the highly anticipated 33rd Annual “Tales from the Crypt,” winner of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts and national finalist for The History Channel’s “Save Our History” Award. “Tales” has also been featured on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” in national publications such as The Atlantic, and highlighted in James and Deb Fallows’ Bestseller Our Towns.

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 “Tales” performances are being held during the same time of the annual Columbus Spring Pilgrimage Jubilee of Homes which runs from March 31 – April 23.

Beginning with the start of the school year, 34 MSMS students in two 11th grade U.S. history classes embarked on a project which included researching documents and rehearsing original scripts based upon student research to bring Mississippians buried in Friendship Cemetery “back to life” through dramatic performances. 

Nine of the students were chosen to develop their characters this spring for visitors to “Tales from the Crypt.”  Other researchers will serve as cemetery tour guides leading visitors among the performers.

Noe researched the Record of Apprentices, Bonds, and Indentures for Lowndes County, Mississippi, January 1866-October 1870  and portrays Martha Battle Fort.  

Born into a prominent North Carolina family, Fort moved to Columbus when he purchased a large tract of land just across the state line in Alabama.  Noe’s performance explores trials Fort faced as her husband died and her second husband engaged in scandalous behavior which threatened the stability of her family.

A junior, Noe is the daughter of Nathan and Jennifer Noe of Paris.

“Tales performances offer a more complete history of our community and help make history personal for the students as well as visitors,” said Chuck Yarborough, an award-winning member of the social studies faculty at MSMS and the project’s director.  

Through research in the extensive local history resources at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library and other sources, Yarborough’s students learn more than just history.

“Our students develop sophisticated research and writing skills along with critical thinking,” added Yarborough. “Then they’re challenged to turn what they learn into a public presentation.  As we honor the contributions as well as the challenges of past Columbus residents, our students develop a strong ethic of community participation and service.”

Profits from program admissions are donated to charitable causes designated by the students.  Over the previous 10 performance years, “Tales” has raised over $50,000 for charity.

Yarborough adds, “For 33 years, “Tales from the Crypt” students have learned not only how to research and write, but also how they can make significant contributions to a Mississippi community.  And, the project has become a model for similar projects across the country.” 

“Tales from the Crypt” performances will be on the evenings of April 12, 14, 19, & 21 from 7-9:00 p.m., in Friendship Cemetery on Fourth Street South, Columbus. 

Tickets are available on site and are $5 for general admission, $3 for students.  Tickets may also be purchased at the Preservation Society of Columbus website. 

For more information on “Tales from the Crypt”, contact the Mississippi School for Mathematics & Science at (662) 329-7670.