A tour of items from Tucson's past has always been available thanks to the Arizona History Museum—but once a year, museum volunteers darn the garb and speak of 19th-century Tucsonans and lead excited young children and adults back in time.
Mary Ann Ruelas is an educator at the museum. She says that volunteers for the museum's "Special Night," which takes place this Saturday, Oct. 22, put the entire event together—from the costuming to choosing which exhibits to walk through.
The "Special Night" has been going on for the past six years, and this year, women will be highlighted more than the men they stood behind: Docents will play two men and six women from Tucson's past.
"They decide who is going to portray which historic character," she said about the volunteers. "They get all the costuming together and bake cookies for treats afterward—they really do it all."
Starting out at the beginning of the museum, attendees will walk through the displays, stopping at certain points to talk to the different characters for seven or eight minutes at a time.
Sisters Atanacia Santa Cruz Hughes and Petra Santa Cruz Stevens are among the women portrayed. They both married Anglo merchants; Hughes married the famous Sam Hughes at Mission San Xavier Del Bac when she was just 12 years old, in 1862. The couple had 15 children, but only 8 survived to maturity.
Her sister lived a rather tragic life. Petra married Hiram Stevens, a wealthy miner and storekeeper. The couple lost their money due to a vast array of debts after the railroad came to town in the 1880s. Her husband later tried to kill her in a murder-suicide; she lived, while he died.
Other characters to meet include Carmen Soto Vasquez, who opened the theater Teatro Carmen in 1915, which featured a large stage and offered shows in the genres of comedy, drama and operettas.
Then there is Lillian Grossetta Barry, remembered in Tucson as an early career woman, according to Ruelas. Barry lived in
Tucson her whole life, and though she was originally a teacher, she became a union negotiator. Born in 1896, she died in 1994.
After the tour, attendees can stop for some light grub; they'll also have the chance to speak to more of the characters.
"It's really a family-friendly thing," Ruelas said. "It's a lot of fun."
One of the historic characters available after the tour (and during it, too) will be John "Pie" Allen, who ran stores at Fort Bowie and Fort Lowell. As a merchant, he was known for selling pies to soldiers for an "outrageous sum of $1 each," Ruelas said.
"They are really fascinating people, and our docent guides really do a great job. All these really interesting things that go on in our past that we're not quite clear on—this is a chance to have some of it cleared up."