MARTINEZ -- Patty Lorick is dressed in replica Victorian-era mourning garb. She sits in silent reverence on a bench in the Alhambra Cemetery, then meanders along paths with names such as Amaranth, Hyacinth, Iris and Moth, with the sound of crunching oak leaves underfoot, and stops to comment on those who are buried there.
"The whole idea is to enlighten not frighten," says Lorick, of upcoming tours she will lead this month. "These are people who are responsible for creating Contra Costa County. Each person has a story ... You read the family letters and the lore becomes plausible."
Since the fall of 1999, Lorick, recreation supervisor for the city of Martinez, has been leading tours of the hilltop grounds where an estimated 3,300 of the infamous and unknown have been resting in peace since the first people were buried there in 1851.
"It's been a labor of love," says Lorick, who, along with Richard Patchin, a member of the Martinez Historical Society, collaborated on the research and development of the tour script.
Both regard the names on the gravestones as portals to learning about the county's history, serving to pique people's interest in wanting to explore more about the individuals who were key in defining the region.
"You become curious about these people," says Lorick, noting folks such as the creator of the beefsteak tomato, Lafayette Irving Fish, the county's first millionaire, and Josiah Sturgis, a well-regarded East Coast stonecutter turned local hotel proprietor.
There's Napoleon Bonaparte Smith, who operated Martinez' first mercantile store, along with William Smith, the founder of Martinez, and Lewis Cass Wittenmyer, the city's first mayor.
On a national stage, Eliza Nottingham, as a 9-year-old girl, is credited with saving a then-4-year-old Abraham Lincoln from drowning in a creek. She is buried at the local cemetery near Hardy the Faithful, a former slave.
The two history buffs pulled their narrative from old newspapers viewed on microfilm and other documents found in the archives.
"It's been a great avenue for me. It's certainly been an eye-opener ... The headstones also tell the stories," Patchin says, referring to the inscription describing the 16-year-old who died after falling from the riggings of a ship, or the mother and three children who perished in a fire at the Pittsburg Hotel in April 1863.
And, Patchin's favorite occupant, Caroline Hipple Holpin, was known as Papinta the Flame Thrower, a worldwide entertainer who died in 1907 at age 37, reportedly poisoned by the noxious fumes in the arc lamps, which were part of the set.
"She'd keep yards and yards of silk and chiffon in motion with these certain gyrations," he says.
The recreation department also hosts tours for Martinez third-graders. They make rubbings of the gravestones and come to grasp that a closed bud signifies the deceased was a child while an open bud indicates an adult.
Children appreciate learning that there are graves -- albeit unmarked -- for the poor in Potter's Field, where roughly 600 early settlers of all nationalities are buried.
"It gives our students a peek at the past that makes their present more of a reality," says Cindy Courtney, a third-grade teacher at Morello Park Elementary School.
What: Cemetery tours for adults only
When: Daylight Cemetery Tour 10 a.m.-noon Wednesday, Oct. 24; Full Moon Cemetery Tour 6:30-7:40 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 28; Halloween Cemetery Tour 6:30-7:40 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 31
Where: Alhambra Cemetery, Carquinez Scenic Drive, Martinez
Cost: Free; donations go toward cemetery restoration
Preregister: 925-372-3510 (limited to 20 people per tour)
For more about people buried in the Alhambra Cemetery, visit www.martinezhistory.org