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Soaking up history

West Linn's annual Living History Tour returns Saturday

SUBMITTED PHOTO: GLEN BLEDSOE - The Living History Tour began eight years ago, and has evolved into an event that features more than 100 volunteer actors and producers. It is one thing to look at a few photos or read some old newspaper articles, and quite another to truly live and breathe local history.

West Linn’s Living History Tour, organized by the West Linn Historical Society and held in the Historic Willamette district Sept. 19, aims to give participants an interactive and engaging glimpse of the past. Now in its eighth year, the event is an hour-long walking tour through the streets and homes of Willamette, presented as it might have looked all the way back in 1913 — the year West Linn was founded.

“It’s like a play where the audience moves, but not the performers,” said Danny Schreiber, a founding member of the West Linn Historical Society and the creator of the Living History Tour. “The audience moves from scene to scene, and gets to see life from 100 years ago.”

The tour features a cast of more than 100 volunteers whose ages range from four to above 80. Together, the cast members create scenes to act out in different rooms of historic homes.

“We went back to many primary documents, newspaper archives, old clips and photos,” Schreiber said. “What we don’t know is exactly what people said — there’s no transcripts of City Council meetings. We had to make up some lines and take some artistic license.”

The scenes are based on some of the most important issues of the time. In 1913, records show that a Willamette area women’s group was pushing for temperance and there was also talk of merging Willamette and West Linn into one city. The tour takes pains to make the experience as authentic as possible. The roads are cleared, and the tour now has volunteers who serve as “extras” — milling around or playing hop-scotch in the backdrop to create a more immersive experience.

“It really helps transport people back to those times, to 100 years ago before autos ruled the world, when horses outnumbered people 10 to one,” Schreiber said. “It was an interesting time, and it’s fun to experience.”

Tickets are sold out, but Schreiber said there are still opportunities to volunteer as an extra or production assistant.

“We always need production help,” he said. “People to help distribute costumes, put up lanterns, make sure everyone’s in the right position. There’s a lot of balls in the air.”

Schreiber also noted that the streets around the Willamette area will be closed from 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday.

Go to willamettelivinghistory.org for more information.

Patrick Malee can be reached at 503-636-1281 Ext. 106 or pmalee@westlinntidings.com.