ALTON — Before the sun even rises, cars will have aligned along 240th Avenue, south of the Solomon River bridge where they park.
It’s become a ritual of sorts in this small Osborne County town each Easter morning. All total, this year marks the 69th year Alton would participate in its Sunrise Service. Other than a few years Rex Johnston can remember because of inclement weather and it being moved into town, the service always has be done at the bottom of the bluffs. It takes place at 6 a.m.
“It’s quite a sight,” Johnston said of the service.
Made up of members who attend the town’s two churches, United Methodist and Mount Ayr Friends, along with others who might not attend those churches or just come from surrounding communities, the service is a depiction of Jesus rising from the tomb. It has become routine where only one practice takes place, which is the Saturday before Easter.
Approximately 30 community members ranging from adult to children take part in the story. From Judas to Pontius Pilate, then Jesus being put on the cross and emerging from the tomb, the story is acted out and followed with a recording.
“There was a period of time in the late (1950s) and early ’60s when I went off to college and got married that I didn’t participate,” said Larry Nichols, who runs the recording and sound for the service. “But I’ve been participating for a long, long time since.”
In an area enclosed by the bluffs, the section of the hills used once was a 4-H park. The land now is private property. On the east end of the area, there is a lower bluff where the three crosses are placed with actors portraying Jesus and the two thieves. Then there’s the raising of the crosses by the Roman soldiers. The depiction is done around the time the sun is rising, giving a silhoutte of the scene.
“I’ve probably been a part of this for about 12 years,” said Peg Anschutz, who has helped direct the event the last three years. “When I was a kid in junior high, I had friends from Alton, and I kept hearing about this pageant. It sounded awesome, but I never had an opportunity to attend until about 36 years later. It was so awesome the first year.”
Anschutz, who lives in Gorham, was a music teacher in the Russell County school district for 35 years.
The roles of the participants has changed through the years, but many of them have done it for a number of years. This year, Casey Carswell played Jesus. It is the second year he has taken on the role.
“There’s a number of former Jesus (actors) who still take part in the cast,” Nichols said with a laugh.
The service, which draws attendance from as far as Salina, is followed by a community breakfast in town.
“I think it’s just awesome,” Anschutz said. “Some years when it gets totally quiet when he shuts the music off and they are putting the crosses up, you can hear the turkeys around the place. It’s pretty cool.”