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Andrew Marshall
Tour creator Doug Alder plays the part of Judge John Macfarlane in the "Historic St. George Live" tour. Alder re-enacts a trial in which he explains how water was budgeted in the early days of St. George.

ST. GEORGE — Doug Alder has brought the sleepy town of St. George to life. He did this by conceiving, writing and carrying out what is known as "Historic St. George Live" tour.

Alder and his wife, Elaine, were traveling through Indiana just more than a decade ago when they passed through Conner Prairie. When they entered the area, they noticed that everyone was dressed in period clothing and gave presentations on Indiana history in first person as the historical figures whom they represented. After seeing this — followed by LDS historical sites in Nauvoo, Ill. — the Alders realized that St. George had the makings of a historical tour.

"It is to help people appreciate the history of this community and the buildings of the community," Alder said. "We're trying to eulogize the elegance of St. George's historic buildings and get people to cherish the heritage of both the buildings and the leaders."

The tour begins with Jacob Hamblin, decked out in frontier attire. He shares stories that could come straight out of a Western film; many of the stories describe his interactions with Native Americans. He signed a treaty with Navajo people that "saved thousands of lives." He also adopted a Native American boy whom he raised as his son.

"If you're always honest with yourself, The Great Spirit and the people you deal with, you'll suffer a lot less," said Bob Thornley, who plays the part of Hamblin.

St. George retirees primarily play the parts, volunteering for one week of the summer to do so. They all know their parts verbatim and do their best to make the experience authentic for the audience.

"(Tourists) will get the full story of the site; they'll get a feeling as though they were there," said Alder, a historian who co-wrote the history of Washington County. "You're right on the site of the original buildings."

After Hamblin's stories, the tour moves into the St. George Opera House. There, visitors meet Orson Pratt, the "scientist and world-class traveler." He talks about why many of the fences and buildings in St. George are painted green (the paint for the temple arrived in drums and turned out to be the wrong color). He discusses his "valuable knowledge" in concocting a primitive odometer to keep track of the mileage on the pioneer trek, and how an out-of-town drunk blasted a hole through the ceiling of the opera house. Unable to distinguish between the acting and real life, the intoxicated stranger tried to shoot the villain in a melodrama.

The tour then takes a bus to the St. George Tabernacle. There, an actor playing Erastus Snow tells how St. George got its name. He also talks about the history of the tabernacle and about the trades and economy of St. George.

The tour debuted in 1996 for the bicentennial celebration of Utah. The community and local government requested that "St. George Live" become a permanent part of the town, and it has.

After the visit with Erastus Snow, visitors travel by bus to the St. George courthouse. There Judge John Macfarlane addresses the crowd. He pulls someone out of the audience as a water thief to illustrate how a trial might have run 150 years ago in St. George. Alder plays this part with enthusiasm, interacting a great deal with the accused and the other tourists, who play the jury.

The tour ends with a visit to Brigham Young's winter home. There, Brigham Young discusses the cotton trade, the telegraph system and how he presided over The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from St. George.

"The whole thing is fun," said Merle Cole, who plays the part of Brigham Young and Orson Pratt. "I fell in love with the history. They were such valiant souls."

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More on the tour

St. George Live runs each summer from June until Labor Day. It costs $3. For more information, visit

www.stgeorgelive.org. During the winter, the tour is given to all fourth-grade classes in the county when students study Utah history. Most of the sites can be visited year-round without the tour.