Tales of the Crypt – Van Buren style

This afternoon I ventured across the river and into downtown Van Buren for Fairview Cemetery’s annual “Tales of the Crypt” event. It’s a collaborative effort, with the Van Buren Historic District, Fairview Cemetery, the Van Buren A&P, and the UA Fort Smith’s historic interpretation program. I’m probably leaving off some other partnerships, but you get the idea.

The event was from 2 to 4 and I arrived sometime after 3pm. Almost 300 visitors had walked through the gate by the time I had arrived.

While I always enjoy Tales of the Crypt events – both in Van Buren and at Fort Smith’s historic Oak Cemetery – this event was especially meaningful to me. One of the historic interpretation students portrayed Edith Sessions. I never met her, but had the pleasure of spending time with her husband, Will Sessions, late in his life.

Will was a distinguished character with a booming voice. He was famous for his 5:30pm “suppers” where 6 to 8 people would gather for roast beef, canned corn, green beans, and toast. Will liked to rotate the guests – some first-timers or VIP guests from out of town – mingled with one or two “regulars.” Everyone – regardless of their stations in life – helped with preparation. Everyone also participated in discussions and in entertainment activities.

My specialty, for instance, was to read. When I was a guest, Will always selected a passage from a particular book. One of his favorites – and mine – was from Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten. Others would sing and he would play the piano. Well, we all sang, but not with nearly as booming a voice as Will.

Will Sessions always had a story – whether from his time as an Army chaplain in WWII or as a young, poor preacher and part-time Bible salesman. But his favorite – and most compelling – stories were about his beloved bride, Edith.

Which brings me back around to today’s Tales of the Crypt. The student portraying Mrs. Sessions got to visit with the Sessions’ daughter. She reviewed lots and lots of materials and photos from Tovey. You see, Dr. Sessions was an accomplished author. He passed the love of the written word along to his children. Judge William Sessions served as FBI director under the Clinton administration.

DSC01339 It was fun today to watch Tiffany Nichols – a student in Tom Wing’s historical interpretation program at UA Fort Smith – portray Edith Sessions. I think the most fascinating part of her presentation, though, was when she stepped back out of character and answered questions from the audience. Her eyes lit up when she relayed first-hand conversations with Tovey and told stories about the Sessions’ life when they lived just up the hill from the cemetery.

One of my favorite stories directly from Will was about their wedding ceremony. They were part of a double-wedding, you see. And Will loved to re-live the minister’s words, “I now pronounce you ‘husbands and wives.'” Will joked that he thought perhaps he might have been married to both women all those years.

Edith developed Alzheimer’s disease and Will told stories of caring for her. He prided himself that he never institutionalized her – he cared for her lovingly and respectfully. Never, ever did I see him once mention Edith that he didn’t have tears in his eyes. Those tears – depending on the moment – represented love, good fortune for having been loved by her, sorrow that she was no longer at his side, and hope.

DSC01342Two very simple markers at Fairview Cemetery represent their life together. Today, Tiffany Nichols shared Edith and Will’s stories to some of us who knew one or both of them.

I know they are together in heaven. In fact, I hear that booming voice of Will’s – joyous that 101 years after Edith’s birth we’re still talking about the love of his life.

Where is my copy of Fulghum’s book, anyway?


DSC01331 I’ve uploaded all the photos I took today to my Flickr account.

3 thoughts on “Tales of the Crypt – Van Buren style

  1. Dr. Sessions was my minister at Westminster Pres. for a time when I was a tween or early teen. It was during the time that Mrs. Sessions had Alzheimer’s. His care and devotion to her were a sight to see. Such a picture of dedication and a testimony to the bonds of a long marriage.

  2. Tracy:

    Thank you for the wonderful writeup concerning “Tales of the Crypt” at Fairview Cemetery. I am the person that got Fairview Cemetery placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005, and have been directly involved with “Tales” at Fairview since its’ inception. It has been personally rewarding for me to be part of this annual city event. I look forward to the 2009 version next October.

    Sincere thanks;
    Randy Smith

  3. JG – I should have known that you knew Dr. Sessions. 🙂 Yes, his love for Miss Edith remained strong, long after she was gone from this earth.

    Randy – thank you for your work. It’s important to all of us.

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