FLORENCE -- Pinal County Historical Society Museum will celebrate the memory of Pedro E. Guerrero, and invite residents to bring photos and mementos of other departed loved ones, from noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct 31, at the museum, 715 S. Main St. in Florence.

This is the eve of the Mexican holiday known as “Dia de los Muertos,” or Day of the Dead, celebrated on Nov. 1 and 2. Traditionally, it’s the time when the wall between the living and the dead is thin, and the departed can briefly smell their favorite foods and enjoy the company of the loved ones they’ve left behind.

Annie Jaimes, who is planning PCHS’s celebration with Cindy Bell, said it’s like a Mexican Memorial Day, when families visit the cemetery. “You clean the graves, decorate the graves and speak to your loved ones. Honor them, bring them food and allow them a window into now.”

An important festival since pre-Hispanic times, it is a time for celebrating and feasting, cleaning and decorating graves, dancing and making music. The celebration includes home altars, or “ofrendas,” with pictures, flowers, rosaries, herbs and some of the loved one’s treasured mementos. Jaimes said some families have ofrendas up all year long.

Marigolds are the “flower of the dead,” said to attract souls by their color and scent. Paths of marigolds may be seen leading to ofrendas and back to the cemetery to find their way.

Today, the blend between old traditions, and the modern and more festival-oriented observances, has created an event celebrated all over every November. Jaimes said it’s about celebrating lives rather than spooky or scary events more commonly reflected on in other communities on Oct. 31.

“Death is believed to be an integral part of life and a means of passing into the afterlife,” Jaimes’ cousin Zarco Guerrero says about Day of the Dead on his website. “The idea of death is to be accepted without fear and often has a comical connotation.”

Zarco Guerrero, a sculptor, mask-maker and performance artist, will perform at the PCHS celebration, telling a story of Day of the Dead through six different characters. But his and Jaimes’ uncle, the late Pedro Guerrero, will be the guest of honor.

“Part of the day is we’re going to build this really large ofrenda, and we had this brilliant idea to make this all about Pedro Guerrero — since it’s his family who are the stars of this, and I don’t feel this town has ever done the right job of recognizing all of his contributions,” PCHS President Cathy Adam said. “So he will be front and center, being celebrated.” There will also be music provided by Mariachi Luz de Luna.

Guerrero, a Casa Grande native who became one of America’s most distinguished photographers, died nine years ago at his home in Florence at age 95. During a career that spanned more than six decades, he worked as celebrated architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s photographer and also spent years documenting the work of sculptors Alexander Calder and Louise Nevelson.

Although Guerrero spent most of his life in the East, he chose to make his home in Florence in the mid-1990s. He was drawn here by, as he wrote in a personal memoir, by “a silent call, a chorus of voices from the past.” He had family ties in the region, loved the town’s abundant territorial adobe architecture and bought the 1888 Suter House for his home.

PCHS invites the public to take part in the preparations by learning how to make Mexican paper flowers, candle wraps and shoe box ofrendas for their homes or to display on Oct. 31. The public is welcome from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, Sept. 4 thru Oct. 23, at PCHS Museum, and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays, Sept. 7 thru Oct. 26, at the Suter House, 270 N. Bailey St. in Florence. Check for the latest updates at pinalcountyhistoricalmuseum.org.

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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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