What do a gangster, a madam, an aviator and a U.S. Supreme Court chief justice have in common? Kern County, apparently.

Eleven prominent figures from Kern County history were brought to life on Saturday as part of the first Stories on the Sidewalk event, an educational walking tour held by the Arts Council of Kern in downtown Bakersfield.

Attendees got to learn about important figures such as the city’s founder, Thomas Baker, and former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren as well as a few less savory characters from Kern County’s past, such as gangster-turned-businessman Charlie Ping and outlaw Dick Fellows.

Rather than just learning about these figures through books, pictures and other items, attendees got to learn about them through short live performances scattered across downtown, with each character brought to life by community members.

“It’s awesome. I love it,” said attendee Barri Whitten. “I’m learning a lot of history about Bakersfield that I never knew, and I was born and raised here.”

Whitten said she had never done a walking tour before. She said a friend invited her to come do it with her and was glad she did.

“It’s really interesting, and I love walking downtown anyway,” she said. “This is a great way to get people downtown, learning about the history of Bakersfield. I appreciate all the work that went into it.”

Jill Waters came on Saturday with her husband and their baby for some quality family time. Waters said she enjoyed learning about local outlaw Dick Fellows and how Bakersfield used to have a red-light district.

“We like like learning about history. It’s really fun,” she said. “I think people should know that significant events have touched Bakersfield, that it’s not just a city in the middle of nowhere. There are things of great significance that have come out of here.”

Gene Hanson said he didn’t know about many of the figures featured in the event until Saturday. He said he particularly enjoyed learning about how Bakersfield was founded by Thomas Baker.

“I think it shows that there’s a lot of diversity in our community,” he said. ‘I hope (the Arts Council of Kern) continues to do this and that more people will take an interest in the community’s history.”

Local interest in the Stories on the Sidewalk event was extremely high, according to the council. While the tours were sold out online prior to the start of the event, Arts Council of Kern Marketing and Outreach Specialist Runa Lemminn said that didn’t stop people from coming the day of looking to join a tour.

“The response has been overwhelming,” she said. “We’re overbooked but we’re still managing. It’s been very successful.”

Lemminn said given the response, the likelihood is high that the council will hold the event again in the future. In the meantime, she said money raised from the event is expected to support some of the council’s current projects.

“When everyone comes back, they say they love it and that the actors were great,” she said. “It’s been really fun featuring the talent we have in this city. They help bring these people to life.”

Joseph Luiz can be reached at 395-7368 or by email at jluiz@bakersfield.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @JLuiz_TBC. 

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