Stopping by Whittaker Cemetery: The Tent Graves of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, Part I

Some years ago, my husband and I discovered a bed and breakfast in Monterey, Tenn. called the Garden Inn at Bee Rock. The first time we stayed there was after enjoying Jazz Fest in Murfreesboro, something we used to do quite often.

Monterey is located about 94 miles east of Nashville on what’s called the Cumberland Plateau. If you’ve ever driven I-40 to or from Nashville to Knoxville, you’ve driven across the Plateau.

Once called Standing Stone, Monterey was renamed (and incorporated) in 1893 when the newly formed Cumberland Mountain Coal Company turned the town into a center of development for the coal and lumber industries coming to life in the area. A contest held to rename the town resulted in it be changed to Monterey, Spanish for “King of the Mountain”.

Cookeville members of the Order of the Red Men pictured with the famous Standing Stone (sitting on top of the big rock) in 1895 prior to it being transported to the pedestal in Monterey Park. (Photo Source: Op Walker Collection).

Bee Rock is a mountain outcropping next to the Garden Inn that people have been visiting for decades. Some take a picnic to enjoy while scanning the gorgeous mountain views. New brides get their pictures taken against the beautiful natural backdrop.

The view from Bee Rock in Monterey, Tenn. (Photo Source: Chris Rylands)

Chris and I have enjoyed visiting the inn several times since that first visit and talking to owner, Mike Kopec. A Long Island native that still holds onto his accent and gift for story telling, Mike knows how to make his guests feel at home.

Me and Mike. He makes an awesome New York style cheesecake!

In October 2016, we decided to return to the inn after a (too) long hiatus. It was a relaxing weekend and we enjoyed catching up with Mike. More important, my husband sweetly offered to take me to any nearby cemetery I wanted to visit!

This sign for Whittaker Cemetery was erected in 1989.

Whittaker Cemetery’s first official burial was in 1832, with the death of Vina Jackson Whittaker. Vina was the mother of Thomas Jefferson Whittaker, an important figure in Monterey history that I’ll get to a bit later.

I’m not sure why Vina Jackson Whitaker’s full name wasn’t inscribed on the stone, only her married name.

Whittaker Cemetery has about 1,700 memorials on Find a Grave, but I suspect there are hundreds more buried here in unmarked graves. A number of field stones can be found throughout the cemetery.

Another view of Whittaker Cemetery.

What you’ll notice after you start wandering about is a handful of a very unusual kind of grave that I’d only seen photos of in the past.

This type of marker is called a tent or comb-style grave.

The first time I saw one of these online I was baffled because they look like a small tent resting on top of the ground.

I’ve since learned that this style, often called a tent or comb-style grave, is unique to the Cumberland Plateau and a few other areas. Hundreds of them exist near Albany, Ky. and across Tennessee, mainly in the counties of Fentress, Overton, Putnam, White, Warren , Van Buren and Coffee. They’re found in limited numbers in northern Alabama and Arkansas. Whittaker Cemetery is in Putnam County.

The principal material is sandstone from the Hartselle Formation, which occurs in outcroppings in the area and in Northern Albama. Other materials used to a lesser degree are limestone, tin or metal, concrete, and on rare occasions marble. The word “comb” is an old architectural term that refers to part of a roof.

I believe these two tent graves were for children.

Variations can be seen depending on the area. In Overton County, the sides are often supported by an iron rod while in White County, they’re supported by a triangular end section of stone inserted underneath.  While some are not inscribed, others may have a separate grave marker or inscription on side of the slab rock. You can see that the two graves in the picture above have a separate grave marker, but they’re not easy to read.

So why would anyone mark a grave like this? There’s a theory that as old wooden coffins deteriorated, the earth on top of the grave sunk. Today, we have cement vaults to prevent that. A stone tent over the sunken grave would have kept animals (who grazed in cemeteries to keep them from getting overgrown) from falling into a sunken grave, and prevented plants from growing in the soil. In the days before power mowers, the easiest way to keep a cemetery mowed was to allow livestock to graze it.

Dr. Richard Finch of Tennessee Tech’s research on tent graves is quite extensive and can explain them far better than I can. You can learn more about that here and see pictures of more of them here. Finch took note of 3,158 tent graves in 404 cemeteries along the western front of the Cumberland Plateau.

The time period for tent graves generally is between the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s, but it can vary a little. Unfortunately, time and nature can be unkind to this style of marker. This tent grave for S.D.L. Young is coming apart at the top.

There’s nothing inside the “tent” but leaves and dirt.

I could find out nothing about the identity of S.D.L. Young.

By contrast, I found out quite a bit about the brief life of Meekel E. France Watson. Born in 1915, she was the daughter of Tennessee natives Wade France and Mary Verbel France. She and her future husband, Herschel, both grew up in the Monterey area. They married on April 7, 1930 in Lake County, Ind. at the age of 15. Herschel was 21.

According to the 1930 Census, Meekel and Herschel were living in Chicago, Ill. where Herschel was working for the railroad.

Meekel France Watson was only 20 when she died.

Sadly, Meekel died on Dec. 9, 1935 for unknown reasons. The 1940 Census indicates Herschel stayed in Chicago, working as a switchman for the railroad. He remarried a woman named Lucille who had a son of her own. Herschel’s marker lays in front of Meekel’s upright one.

Herschel Watson outlived his first wife by several decades. He died at the age of 81.

Earlier, I mentioned Thomas Jefferson “T.J.” Whittaker. I counted about 50 Whittakers as being buried at Whittaker Cemetery on Find a Grave, but I’m sure there are plenty more.

T.J. was the son of John Whitaker III, whose father John Whitaker Jr. was born around 1761 in Pitt County, N.C., and served in the Revolutionary War. John Jr. and John III came to Putnam County early and were both there for a couple of years. What happened after that is questionable because I’ve seen various versions from different family members. Some of the Whittakers moved to Madison County, Ala.

Some of the Whittakers moved on to Alabama to settle there.

But T.J. stayed in Monterey. In 1842, he married Nancy Dillard Clark and they had several children. He must have done fairly well there because he amassed quite a bit of land over the years.

Thomas Jefferson Whittaker is buried beside his wife, Nancy.

In the 1890s, the Cumberland Mountain Coal Company arrived in Putnam County. It was T.J. Whittaker who sold several hundreds of acres of his land to the Company. I don’t know how much money he got from the deal but I’m sure it was a handsome sum at the time.

One of the more unusual tent graves I saw at Whittaker Cemetery is a bit of a puzzle because I’m not sure who it belongs to. The temporary marker in front of it indicates it belongs to Arthur Pippin, who died in 1982. That’s awfully recent for a tent grave.

Is this the grave of Arthur Pippin?

Arthur does have a military marker memorializing his service in World War I. He and his wife, Viola, had moved out to California by 1940. He died in 1982 in Idaho but his family had his remains brought back to Monterey for burial in Whittaker Cemetery.

It appears the sides of this tent grave are loosely enclosed with wooden boards.

Next week, I’ll be back at Whittaker Cemetery to share some of the more traditional gravestones and explore more about this part of the Cumberland Plateau.

A blue angel watches over Whittaker Cemetery. Photo source: Chris Rylands

Visiting Council Bluffs, Iowa’s Fairview Cemetery: On a Lonely Hillside, Part IV

Last week was devoted entirely to Fairview Cemetery’s handsome white bronze monuments. Today I finish my series on Fairview by walking among some forgotten grave markers that most visitors don’t even notice.

After you enter the front gates, and if you see a dirt road veering to the left, you’ll notice a back hillside that is much less orderly than the rest of the place. The rather sharp incline of the hillside is probably not easy to mow. The graves are scattered here and there with no real plan. And some markers have clearly seen better days.

Here’s one view of it. You can see the dirt road that goes around it.

A rather bumpy dirt road winds around the back hillside of Fairview. I wouldn’t want to attempt to drive it.

I found this sign indicating there are prairie grasses present. I don’t know if they’re trying to let it grow wild.

You can find prairie grass on the hillside.

Some graves are together in family plots, but many are alone. Several bear the names of Danish, German and Irish immigrants that came to America looking to start a new life. They were carpenters, farmers and railroad workers. Not bankers or lawmakers whose names appeared in local history books.

There’s little rhyme or reason to some of the grave placement. I wonder if some of the markers are actually still over where the burials are.

Anna L. Devore’s monument stands alone near the top of the hill.

Some graves are for children whose parents were immigrants that moved on. I was certain I would find little to nothing about either of the Reitsma children, but Ancestry surprised me.

Sypko Reitsma was born on Feb. 14, 1892 in Leuwarden in Holland to Klaas Cornelis Reitsma and Akke Swierstra Reitsma. The couple married in Rauwerderhem in 1889 and emigrated to America soon after.

The Reitsma children were buried at Fairview but their parents moved away to Portland, Ore.

Little Sypko died at the age of 7 in 1899. His brother, who was unnamed, was born and died in August of the same year. The Reitsmas had other children that did survive. By 1910, they had left Council Bluffs for Oregon where Klaas found work as a carpenter. Akke died in 1925 and Klaas died in 1952. Both are buried at Multnomah Park Cemetery in Portland, Ore.

Anna Catherine Magdalena Stelling’s stone sits by itself under a tree. A German immigrant, she was married to a fellow German immigrant named Fred Stelling. They were married in April 1898. Because the details of her will are on Ancestry, I learned that the sale of her possessions was possibly needed to pay her medical bills. Beyond her sewing machine, she didn’t have much.

Anna Catherine Magdalena Stelling’s marker sits alone under a tree.

Anna Catherine Magdalena Stelling died at the age of 37, just two years after her marriage to Fred “Fritz” Stelling.

The son of John William and Anna Christine Madison Gibler appears to be alone. I couldn’t find a name on the stone but Find a Grave identifies him as Robert Burdette Gibler, who died at the age of 2. I learned that his maternal grandparents, Charles and Sene Madison, are buried beside him in unmarked graves. His parents, who died in the 1940s, are buried at nearby St. Joseph Cemetery with their other son, Harvey, who lived much longer and died at 61.

This little boy appears to be alone but his grandparents are buried beside him.

Hazel Verna Young is alone, her parents burial site unknown. I learned that she was the daughter of L.A. and L.E. Young. She was only 11 when she died. Her obituary states she had heart disease. I could find nothing about her parents beyond their names and address in Council Bluffs.

In need of repair, Hazel Verna Young’s marker rests against its base.

I felt sadness for Harold Hall, who lived only 15 months before he died. A photo on Find a Grave of the marker from 2009 shows it as unbroken. It now lies on the ground in two pieces. There are other Halls buried at Fairview but I don’t know if any of them are his parents.

Harold Hall’s marker was not broken when photographed in 2009.

Two men are buried on the hillside who appear to have come to America in their younger days but on their own. Daniel Ashton, a native of Cheshire, England, ended up in Council Bluffs and died there are the age of 54.

A native of Cheshire, England, little is known about Daniel Ashton.

Wilhelm Budde is also buried alone. There are other Buddes buried in other Iowa cemeteries, but Wilhelm is the only one at Fairview.

I could find out nothing about Wilhelm Budde beyond what is on his broken marker.

By contrast, at the back of Fairview Cemetery is a large monument commemorating someone whose life is well documented.

The Kinsman monument is surrounded by four large cannons, 32-pounder seacoast guns cast at West Point Foundry in 1829. The markings on the muzzle face show the initials of the inspector and the foundry registration number.

Born in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, Canada, William Henry Kinsman came to Iowa in 1854 and worked as a lawyer in Council Bluffs until the Civil War broke out in April 1861. After enlisting in the Union Army, he was appointed as major of the 23rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry. By 1862, he’d been promoted to colonel and commander of the regiment.

Kinsman’s war comrades were behind the effort to have his remains returned to Council Bluffs. Major General Grenville Dodge presided over the dedication ceremony in 1902.

Col. Kinsman was killed in action near Vicksburg, Miss. during the Vicksburg Campaign while leading his regiment in an assault on Confederate positions along the Black River. The battle, one of a series conducted by General Ulysses S. Grant prior to boxing the Confederate Army in at Vicksburg, was important because it compelled the Confederates to abandon any hope of defeating Grant, forcing them back into the Vicksburg fortifications.

This inscription describes Col. William Kinsman’s role in the Battle of Black River.

At the urging of his war comrades, Col. Kinsman’s body was removed from the battlefield where he was originally buried and re-interred in Council Bluffs. In 1902, the monument was erected over his grave to honor him and all Union soldiers who lost their lives in the war.

Colonel Kinsman’s monument is definitely impressive and a fitting tribute. But I couldn’t help thinking about the many people buried on that lonely hillside with little beyond their markers. Some broken, some all alone. Some with no markers at all.

As I end my series on Fairview Cemetery, I hope that those who visit the Kinsman monument would also spend some time visiting these seemingly forgotten markers on the hillside to honor those buried there. They were someone’s little girl or boy at one time. Someone’s mother, father, brother or sister.

Their lives mattered just as much.

Visiting Council Bluffs, Iowa’s Fairview Cemetery: The Beauty of White Bronze, Part III

Last week, I talked about some of the many tree-style monuments at Fairview Cemetery. This week, I’m featuring white bronze markers because Fairview has a number of them. I’ve written about white bronze before but let me give you a refresher course.

What is white bronze? Kevin Ladd of Stephen F. Austin University does a very good job at explaining it all but I’ll try. White bronze is actually not bronze, but is made up of mostly zinc, with different amounts of copper and tin. Today, zinc is often used in jewelry as a substitute for nickel. As you can see in the picture below, it has a bluish gray look to it.

A native of Virginia, Solonia Clatterbuck Doty died at the age of 37. Her husband, Isaac, was a Civil War veteran. This is a good example of a smaller white bronze monument.

Made by the Monumental Bronze Co. of Bridgeport, Conn. from 1874 to 1914, these markers were sold with the claim that they would last longer, cost about a third of an equivalent marker carved from stone, and look modern. It was called white bronze as a marketing ploy to make it sound more attractive. You selected exactly what you wanted from a catalog and could place an order with a local sales agent.

A reader who saw last week’s blog contacted me with some interesting information on Monumental Bronze salesmen. Men who sold white bronze in the Seattle, Wash. and Portland, Ore. areas continued to sell stone markers as well. In addition to selling from a catalog, they often purchased a white bronze themselves and had it on a grave at a local cemetery so clients could see one for themselves. So it’s possible Lawrence Kelly (mentioned last week) could have sold white bronze monuments in Council Bluffs.

This is just one example of the many white bronze monuments you could choose from, tailored to meet your exact requirements.

The Monumental Bronze Co. operated offices in Detroit and Des Moines. They were quite popular in the Midwest but I rarely see them in the Southeast. If you look at the base of one, you can sometimes find out exactly where it was produced.

This is on the base of one of Fairview’s white bronze monuments. Western White Bronze Company opened in Des Moines in 1886 and closed in 1908. In 1914, the government took over the plant to manufacture munitions during World War I.

The company mass produced them using molds. Individual sections could be bolted on so custom panels with text or symbols could be added. Customers could change the panels later if other family members died and could be laid to rest at their monument.

White bronze monuments weather very well and often look as good today as they did when they were first installed. They age better than marble, and are equal to the lasting qualities of granite. Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like them so much. The inscriptions don’t wear off.

White bronze markers are actually hollow, and consist of vertical panels held together by screws at the corners. If you tap on it, you can hear the metallic hollow sound. They came in all manner of shapes and sizes from very small to huge monuments. I’ve seen many variations and they always fascinate me.

Josie Lyman was the wife of Joseph Lyman, congressman (1885-1889) and lawyer, who practiced in Council Bluffs. Above her name you can see the lily of the valley, a symbol of rebirth.

So what brought white bronze markers to an end? World War I came and the demand for metal for munitions stopped production. After the war, demand for these monuments faded but Monumental Bronze kept making individual panels for family members who died after the monuments were ordered.

The company made castings for automobiles and radios until it closed in 1939, ending a unique chapter in funerary art. I’m not the only person who wishes they still existed because of their versatility. They really do stand the test of time and are great resources for genealogists.

This page from a Monumental Bronze catalog shows just a handful of the emblems you could choose from. Notice the lyre that’s featured on the Lyman monument.

The most common style of white bronze monument I’ve seen is the one pictured below. It can be small or quite large. I could spend an entire blog post dissecting this one for Anders “Andy” Ellitsgaard. I’ve included the images on its sides.

Anders “Andy” Ellitsgaard’s cause of death remains a bit of a mystery.

A native of Denmark, Anders “Andy” Ellitsgaard arrived in America in 1880 at the age of 20. He married Minnie Jensen, also a Danish immigrant, sometime after her arrival in 1887. She may have been from his village in Denmark. In 1890, she was pregnant with their child.

At first, I thought Andy might have died while in the military.

Andy passed away on June 23, 1890. At first I thought it was probably from wounds sustained in the military because his monument says “He fell while on post of duty, and let the world forget him not.” But I now believe he was in some kind of railroad accident.

“Gone Home” with the crown above it was one of many sayings or phrases one could choose. If Andy had a policy through Banner Lodge No. 56, it might have paid for the monument.

Andy’s monument indicates he was a member of Banner Lodge No. 56, which was a part of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Firemen and Enginemen. It was a railroad fraternal benefit society and trade union from the 1870s into the early 1900s. Banner Lodge No. 56 was based in Stanberry, Mo. and had members in the Council Bluffs area.

I’ve seen many monuments depicting this scene so it must have been quite popular.

Another frequently chosen motif was the ivy-covered log cross. There are even logs at its base. Not surprising since Andy was cut down in his prime.

Andy never got to see his son, also named Anders, who was born just a few months later. Minnie remarried and moved to Colorado with Anders.

The white bronze monument for Wilheminne “Minnie” Klopping is similar to Andy’s but a bit fancier. A number of images adorn the sides.

A native of Germany, Minnie Klopping was 44 when she died. You can see that the finial at the top looks to be broken.

Minnie and Frederick were both German immigrants. I’m not sure if they had any children because records are spotty. In 1886, Frederick remarried to Louise Dreier and they had at least six children. Both Frederick and Louise are buried at Fairview beside Minnie.

A woman holding an anchor was one of the motifs one could choose from. It often meant hope or eternal life. Another motif was a woman pointing upward, which is also on this monument.

This is the first time I’ve seen kneeling angels on a white bronze monument.

There’s even an inscription on one side in German that I was able to translate (thanks to Google). It reads: “But I know that my Savior lives and he will resurrect me from the earth.

A white bronze monument enabled families to choose many different ways to commemorate their loved one. Even in their own language.

This next monument is a similar style but was purchased for a mother and her daughter, who died four years apart.

Anna and her daughter Leuella died four years apart.

A native of Michigan, John Sylvester Flageolle was 24 when he married Anna A. Homer in Council Bluffs on Jan. 13, 1882. She was 18, born and raised in the Dakota Territory. She gave birth to their first child, Leuella, in January 1883. The little girl died only eight months later on Aug. 8, 1883. It’s likely the portion of the monument seen below was created soon after Leuella died.

This plate was created for the baby, Leuella Flageolle, who died in 1883.

James and Anna had two more children, Pearl and William, before Anna died on June 9, 1887. I believe that this was when this inscription was added to honor Anna’s life.

Anna died in 1887, having had two more children with James. This plate was added after her death, commemorating her life and little Leuella’s.

One of the more detailed motifs was chosen for this monument, an angel guiding a ship of some kind with a reclining woman or child on a bed. There’s one other white bronze monument with the same motif at Fairview. I’ve not seen it anywhere else.

An angel appears to be guiding a ship bearing the deceased toward a new horizon.

In 1892, James married Anna’s older widowed sister, Lavinia Homer Rolland. She had two children of her own. They moved to the Dakota Territory and later settled in Colorado. They had five children together. James died in 1944 and Lavinia died in 1941.

Next week, I’ll wrap up my series on Fairview Cemetery by exploring the back hillside where some of the loneliest vistas are found.

 

Visiting Council Bluffs, Iowa’s Fairview Cemetery: A Forest of Stone Trees, Part II

In sight of the massive granite and marble monuments of the wealthy departed arc hundreds of modest graves, where just as loving hands have adorned them according to their means, and undoubtedly their occupants rest as peacefully as the others. It seems to be natural for people to select hills on which to bury their dead.”

— H.H. Field’s “History of Pottawattamie County” on Fairview Cemetery

Last week, I shared the story of Annie Dodge and the Black Angel of Council Bluffs. This week, we’re going inside the gates of Fairview Cemetery to look at some of its tree monuments and markers. One presented a mystery that I’m still untangling.

Before Council Bluffs became a city, thousands of Native Americans were sent to live on a Reservation there created for members of the Council of Three Fires of Chippewa, Ottawa and Potawatomi. The Treaty of Chicago (1833-1835) forced them to vacate Illinois, clearing the way for that city to incorporate. By 1846, the Potawatomi were forced to move again to a new reservation in Osawatomie, Kansas.

According to its Web site, Fairview’s oldest known burial was in 1826, well before the area was officially designated as Fairview Cemetery in 1846. Located in the heart of old town Council Bluffs, it was named Kanesville in 1848 after benefactor Thomas L. Kane. He helped negotiate federal permission for Mormons heading west to use Indian land along the Missouri River for their 1847-1847 winter encampment. The hill they camped on is where Fairview is located.

Emigrants near the Missouri River in 1852 at the Kanesville crossing near Council Bluffs, Iowa. Photo source: Brigham Young University, L. Tom Perry Special Collections.

Many of the Mormons who died of exposure and disease while at the camp are buried here although few of those headstones remain intact. A plaque notes that Potawatomi Indians (Council Bluffs is located in Pottawattamie County, there’s a difference in the spelling) and other settlers are also buried here.

According to Find a Grave, Fairview has over 8,000 burials. However, an 2010 article I read said (about an Eagle Scout’s project in which he recorded all the graves) it was around 7,300. More than 2,000 graves are those of veterans, including veterans of the War of 1812 and the Civil War. A number of markers are just plain illegible due to weathering over time.

When you into Fairview, it doesn’t seem as hilly as it actually is. The front area is a gradual ascent.

Can you spot Christi in the purple top?

Around the top, some teens on skateboards were zooming around. Not a wise idea when you could find yourself flying straight into a huge granite monument! I was relieved when they left because I didn’t want them to make a permanent home there as a result of an accident.

Once you get up to the top, this is what you can see.

The picture I posed last week of the view of Omaha is better than this one but it still give you a good idea of how far you can see from the top.

Fairview has two things I love to see. Lots of tree-shaped monuments and white bronze (zinc) monuments. They are both endless sources of fascination for me as they can vary so greatly. Today I’m going to focus on the trees. It’s always puzzled me why they were so common in earlier times.

Of course, the fraternal order Woodmen of the World tree monuments can be found in cemeteries across the county. But there are plenty of tree monuments with no connection to WOW at all.

Let’s take a look at the tree monument for British immigrant Thomas Green. I found some great information about him thanks to Daily Nonpareil reporter Mary Lou McGinn, who wrote about a house in Council Bluffs once owned by one of Green’s daughters.

A native of Yorkshire, England, Green was born in 1818. He married Selby native Mary Anne and they had several children. According to the 1881 England Census, he operated a successful shipbuilding business in Selby with his son, Richard. Daughter Maria married George Jackson in 1869, a Selby lad who emigrated to America with his parents 10 years earlier.

This tree monument for Thomas Green has symbols that taphophiles like myself love. Ivy (on the back) symbolizes friendship. An anchor often means hope or eternal life. Since Green was once a shipbuilder, the anchor has double significance.

Sons Richard and Robert emigrated to America in 1867 and the rest of the Greens joined them in 1871. According to H.H. Field’s “The History of Pottawattamie County”, the Greens crossed the Atlantic in 13 days and traveled by land for two before reaching Council Bluffs on June 11, 1871. Two days, really?

With sons Richard and Robert, Thomas established a lumber business called Thomas Green and Sons. In 1880, Thomas sold the business to start the Thomas Green and Sons Packing Company. Their pork packing plant, located in the Mosquito Creek valley two miles from Council Bluffs, specialized in hams and bacon.

Thomas died in 1886 and Mary Anne followed in 1909. Richard died in 1908. All of them (along with Maria and George) are buried at Fairview.

The identity of Victor’s parents and how long he lived are unknown. The calla lilies at the base often mean resurrection or beauty.

The tree monument for “Little Victor” Austin is doubly sad because beyond finding out he died in 1891, there was nothing else I could discover about him due to the condition of the marker. This broken stump-style of monument (common for children) can be seen elsewhere at Fairview.

Willie Russel was only two years old when he died in 1888. His monument notes that he was the son of William A. and Rena Russel but there is no record of their burial at Fairview. A dead dove is carved near the base, signifying a premature death.

A fallen dove lies at the base of Willie Russel’s grave, which has a base of stone logs.

Clarke Prescott’s tree monument is one I see often in cemeteries but is executed better than some and has stood the test of time well. The inscription is still easy to read. Researching his life resulted in a mystery I’m still trying to solve.

Greenleaf Clarke Prescott (as his birth records indicate) was born on Jan. 8, 1849 in Pittsfield, N.H. Not in Plattsmouth, N.H. in 1850. His parents were John and Mary Clarke Prescott, who both died in 1862, leaving Clarke an orphan at the age of 13.

The birth date on Clarke Prescott’s monument is at odds with records I found. The fern fronds at the base stand for humility and sincerity.

Clarke moved to Salinas, Kansas in 1869. In 1874, he married young widow Fannie Sawyer and they had four children of which two survived. In 1881, the Prescotts moved to Council Bluffs where Clarke worked as an agent for the Plano Harvester Works (based in Illinois) until his death in 1888.

Ancestry has records of Clarke’s will. His death resulted in a true legal mess for widow Fannie for some time because of a dispute over land claims he owned with the Union Pacific Railroad. Fairview Cemetery had a $25 claim against Clarke’s estate in 1891, indicating they weren’t paid for his burial plot.

The debt for Clarke Prescott’s grave at Fairview had not been paid three years after his death.

Fannie shared the same address as native New Yorker Lawrence Kelly in 1889, whose name appears in Fannie’s legal documents as someone working on her behalf in the case. Lawrence Kelly’s profession was marble cutter before he became retail manager of a grave monuments business. His father had sold monuments in Council Bluffs in the 1880s.

Did Lawrence Kelly purchase Clarke Prescott’s tree monument for Fannie? It would explain the high quality of it since he clearly knew the industry. Did they meet when she went to purchase one for Clarke?

Fannie married Lawrence Kelly in 1891 in Council Bluffs. She (and her children) disappear from records after that. Lawrence’s name doesn’t appear again until 1920, and by that time he was widowed but still selling grave monuments. By 1930, when he was 78 years old, he was back in New York living with his sister. Yes, still selling monuments.

What happened to Fannie and her kids? I’ll have to dig some more to find out the end of her story.

This one is for a child but the inscription is so worn and obscured by lichen, you can’t read the name.

The head of the lamb at the base has been broken off.

Here’s a variation of the tree monument, a tree trunk holding up an open book. The inscription has completely worn away so I don’t know who it was for. But whomever carved the tree stump took quite a bit of time making it.

The inscription on this monument is complete illegible.

Finally, instead of a tree stump, I liked the look of this cross made out of two logs. John R. Slack lived to the age of 30 and was a member of GAR #31, so he was likely a Civil War veteran. But that’s all I know about him.

John Slack’s monument is a nice mix of rustic and traditional.

Next time, I’ll spend some time sharing photos of some of the many white bronze (zinc) monuments at Fairview. I hope you’ll enjoy them as much as the trees.

Angels on the monument for Minnie Klopping

Visiting Council Bluffs, Iowa’s Fairview Cemetery: The Legend of the Black Angel, Part I

On the last day of my April 2016 adventure to Nebraska, Christi and I crossed the Missouri River to visit Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluffs, Iowa. The views from Fairview are quite impressive.

Even if cemeteries aren’t your thing, just visiting Fairview to see the view of Omaha is worth it.

So why am I devoting an entire blog post to two people who aren’t even buried at Fairview? The legend of the Black Angel has tantalized Iowa residents for years and is well worth sharing. Iowa actually has TWO Black Angels, one right next to Fairview Cemetery and a different one in Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City (which I haven’t had a chance to visit yet).

On the way up to Fairview, we saw a monument commemorating the 1858 visit of Abraham Lincoln (before he became President) to Council Bluffs. His main goal was to see some property that a friend was offering as collateral toward a loan he hoped to obtain from Lincoln.

But with his reputation already strong as a powerful figure and orator, Lincoln’s old friends and new ones who wanted to spend time with him turned his visit into more than just a few days. While he was there, he met Grenville M. Dodge and his wife, Annie, at a reception. Dodge would later join the Union Army and reach the rank of Major General.

Erected in 1911, the monument’s inscription reads:  “A King of all men whose crown was love and whose throne was gentleness. This monument is to commemorate the visit of Abraham Lincoln to Council Bluffs August 19, 1859. From this point he viewed the extensive panorama of the valley of the Missouri river and in compliance with the law of Congress he selected this city as the Eastern terminus of the Union Pacific railroad.”

A native of Massachusetts, Grenville Dodge was born in 1831. In 1851, he graduated from Norwich University with a degree in civil engineering. For the next decade, he was involved in surveying for railroads, including the Union Pacific. Dodge served with distinction during the Civil War and was also heavily involved in military intelligence. After the war, he became the Union Pacific’s chief engineer and a leading figure in the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.

Grenville Dodge in his younger days.

But it was was his wife, Ruth Anne “Annie” Dodge, that figures more prominently in my story. Dodge’s first job was surveying for the Illinois Central Railroad in Peru, Ill. It was during this time in Peru that he met Annie. Although she played piano, and enjoyed opera and poetry, Annie could ride a horse and shoot a gun as well as Dodge.

Grenville Dodge met his future wife, Annie, while working for the Illinois Central Railroad. Photo source: Union Pacific Railroad.

On May 28, 1854, the couple married. The Dodges moved to Nebraska Territory, where they tried homesteading on his Elkhorn River claim. Indian attacks on settlers caused them to move to Omaha by the fall. Daughter Lettie was born there in 1855. In 1856, the family moved to Council Bluffs. Their second daughter, Ella, was born there in 1858. Third daughter Anne was born in 1866.

After the war, the Dodges built a new home at 605 Third Street in Council Bluffs.  Between 1860 and 1870, their wealth increased from $12,000 to $350,000.

Built in 1869, Grenville and Annie’s 14-room Victorian era home is located in Council Bluffs overlooking the Missouri River Valley. Made a National Historic Landmark in 1961, the house has been open for tours since 1964. Photo source: Council Bluffs Online, LLC.

The Dodges spent much of the later 1870s through the 1890s in Manhattan, New York as Grenville’s engineering expertise took him around the world. They retired to Council Bluffs in 1907 and Dodge worked on his memoirs. Grenville Dodge died of cancer in January 1916 and was buried in Walnut Hill Cemetery in Council Bluffs.

Grenville and Annie Dodge are actually buried in this mausoleum in Walnut Hill Cemetery, just a few miles from Fairview Cemetery. Photo source: David Habben, Find a Grave.

Annie died in September that same year and was buried beside her beloved Grenville at Walnut Hill. Daughters Ella and Anne contacted famed sculptor Daniel Chester French to create a memorial statue to honor their mother. French is best known for his statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C.’s Lincoln Memorial. He created many memorial sculptures in his lifetime that grace cemeteries today, including Atlanta’s Westview Cemetery.

French completed the statue in 1918 and it was dedicated in 1920, just outside of Fairview Cemetery.

A native of New Hampshire, Daniel Chester French is best known for his statue of Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C.

Why did the Dodge sisters have the statue placed just outside Fairview and not at Walnut Hill where their parents are buried? I don’t know the answer to that.

The Black Angel was inspired by a dream Annie Dodge had three times.

The bronze statue aged over time and took on a dark black cast. As a result, French’s statue became known as the Black Angel.

The inspiration for the Black Angel came from Annie herself. Before she died, Annie had a dream. While standing on a rocky shoreline, she saw an old boat come out of the mist. In the prow of the boat, a beautiful woman whom Annie guessed was an angel stood holding a small bowl overflowing with water.

The Angel still beckons those who come near to drink.

“Drink,” the angel said. “I bring you both a promise and a blessing.”

Annie chose not to. She later told her daughter, Anne, “I felt unworthy, and it seemed to me it would be presumption on my part to partake of anything so wonderfully pure, so heavenly, so spiritual.”

The angel appeared to Annie in a dream a second time. Again, she chose not to drink. When the angel came to her a third time, she accepted the offer. After drinking from the bowl, Mrs. Dodge felt that she had been “transformed into a new and glorious spiritual being.”

I took many photos of the Black Angel but this one is my favorite. She does have an intense stare at certain angles.

“I drank of that wonderful water of life and it gave me immortality,” she said to Anne.

Annie died shortly after her third dream of the angel.

According to an Omaha World-Herald article, nobody knows for sure when or why the memorial became shrouded in legend. As early as 1975, a World-Herald reader complained that a recent article had misrepresented the statue as a grim characterization of the Angel of Death.

Some have said the Angel comes to life after sundown and, borne by her powerful wings, flies around the graves. Others claim she shoots jets of fire from her eyes when the clock strikes midnight.  Others recount the curse of her stare — look into her eyes at midnight, they say, and prepare for an early demise.

The shadow of the Angel can be seen falling on the inscription. You can see Fairview Cemetery’s fence in the background.

Kori Nelson, executive director of the Historic General Dodge House and a Council Bluffs native, knows all about the legends. She’s heard the vague warnings against meeting the angel’s gaze or touching her outstretched hand.

“It’s just a statue with a fountain. I mean, that’s really all it is,” she said. “I think it’s our job to put out the story of what actually is true.”

Over the years, the statue became a target for vandalism and graffiti. The bronze developed a dark patina (thus the Black Angel name). Water stopped flowing from the bowl in 1960.

In 1984, restoration efforts began. Since then, security measures have been installed to discourage vandals. Motion-activated cameras photograph late-night visitors. I read that an audio system warns against trespassing. There was no water flowing when we were there.

I don’t view Annie’s Angel as a dark force at all. I like to think of her as perhaps carrying the essence of Annie, bringing a ray of light and hope to the world she left behind. I’m glad I was able to see her.

Next week, I’ll be back at Fairview and sharing stories of the people (actually) buried there.

Back to Where It All Began: More Stories from Blair City Cemetery

After leaving Wisner Cemetery, Christi and I decided we’d head back to Omaha. We’d considered going to Sioux City, Iowa, but unlike Georgia, the area’s weather is not nearly as warm in April and the forecast was blustery further north.

Blair City Cemetery has close to 10,000 interments.

I did ask if we could stop in Blair. I hadn’t been to Blair since January 2009 when she and I went on what I now consider my first “hop” at Blair City Cemetery. It was a cold, snowy day and while I’d been able to see the graves of my Claar relatives, conditions weren’t ideal. I wanted to spend some time there when I could truly wander around see the markers without ice on them.

According to Rufus’ obituary, “Mr. Claar has been a good citizen of Washington county for many years and by thrifty habits has accumulated considerable property.”

Rufus Claar is my first cousin five times removed. He came to Blair, Neb. from Ohio at some time before 1870. He worked for a gentleman named Milton B. Wild, whose wife was from the same area of Ohio as Rufus. His sister Eliza Jane Claar Weed and her husband, Charles, moved out to Blair and settled down soon after.

Rufus married a local girl, Alma Stewart, and they had several children. The twins, Arthur and Lisle, were born on the same day in 1880 and died on the same day a year and two months later. I don’t know if it was due to illness or an accident but that has always puzzled me.

The Claar family lived in this house on Grant Street near Blair’s business district.

Mable, Rufus and Stewart, who were born after the twins, all lived well into adulthood. Stewart, the youngest, served in World War I as an aviator.

The folks that take care of Blair Cemetery do a fine job. They have a great directory and a metal box that protects it from the elements. Also, the Washington County Genealogical Society has recorded and indexed the obituaries of many folks buried at the cemetery. I found it to be a wonderful resource.

Blair became a city in 1872 and burials probably began in the 1860s as pioneers began arriving. I found a few markers from the early 1870s. Find a Grave lists about a little less than 10,000 memorials. It is still an active cemetery.

Even in bad weather, you can locate a grave at Blair Cemetery.

The photo I took of Rufus’ grave in 2009 did not turn out well due to the snow and ice on it. But this time, it was easier. I had forgotten he had a Woodmen of the World seal on his monument, too.

The monument for my first cousin (five times removed) Rufus Claar. He left behind everything in Ohio to try his luck in Nebraska, as many did after the Civil War when the lure of the West called.

Rufus died in 1902, only 54 at the time. His health had not been good and an auction was held shortly before he died. I was told that his land is actually next to Blair Cemetery and is still farmed today but not by Claars. None of his children stayed in Blair but the Weeds did. Many of them are buried in nearby Kennard Cemetery.

One of the most touching monuments I’ve ever seen is for the McMenemy brothers, Charles and Silas. They died of diphtheria in 1888 within days of each other. Charles was five and Silas was four.

The monument for the McMenemy brothers is unlike any other I’ve ever seen in its amount of detail.

Their father, Charles E. McMenemy, was a native of South Carolina who left the South to fight for the Union in the 20th New York Infantry during the Civil War. He moved to Blair after the war and eventually married the daughter of a local doctor, Mary Fawcett (noted for being the first graduate of Blair High School). Charles became involved in real estate and did quite well.

A squirrel nibbles on a nut on the “tree” of the McMenemy brothers monument.

But no amount of money could protect his sons from the scourge of diphtheria.

The loss of Charles and Silas must have devastated their parents.

The monument Charles had made for the boys contains a number of amazing motifs, from a squirrel nibbling on a nut to the traditional lambs to a child’s sailboat and sailor hats and a small bicycle. Even a small bird perches on one branch of the “tree”. The more I examined it, the more I found.

Charles E. and Mary also had three daughters, they all survived into adulthood. Son Logan was born in 1892 and also lived a long life. The family moved to Omaha in 1905 where Charles E. died in 1908. Mary died in 1941.

The story behind this monument for John Robert Cantlin is one that made me smile. Because while its quite beautiful, there is no body buried beneath it.

Woodmen of the World monuments are always distinctive for their tree motif.

A native of Canada, Cantlin came to the U.S. as a child. During the Civil War, he served in the 104th Illinois Volunteers, Co. A., then spent several years as a railroad agent in Illinois. He married Eliza Curran in 1866 and in 1869 they moved to Nebraska. The Cantlins ended up in Dodge County where they farmed.

In 1881, John Cantlin was elected to the state legislature (where he served two terms) and was secretary of the State Grange for many years. He was also a member of the State Board of Agriculture. In 1902, he was appointed by Gov. Ezra Savage as a delegate to the Farmer’s National Congress at Macon, Ga. Macon is about an hour and a half from where I currently live.

The folks at Woodmen of the World neglected to find out that John Cantlin was Catholic and his family wanted him buried in a different cemetery among his relatives.

After leaving Macon, Cantlin and some other men were going to tour St. Augustine, Fla. when he suffered a stroke while aboard the train. After being taken to the Valdes Hotel in Valdosta, Ga. (two hours south of Macon), he passed away. His body was shipped back to Blair, where it lay in state for two days at Germania Hall. According to his obituary, every place in Blair closed for his funeral, which was held at St. Joseph’s Church.

To honor Cantlin, Woodmen of the World purchased the lot and erected this memorial to him in the Blair City Cemetery. The problem is that its a Protestant cemetery and John R. Cantlin was Catholic. His family wanted him to be buried at nearby St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery in Scribner, Neb., where his first wife Eliza (who had died in 1888), four of his children who died in infancy and his mother were already buried. So that’s where his actual remains are, under a different monument. But the beautiful monument that WOW had made for him remains at Blair City Cemetery.

Former State Rep. John Cantlin was a member of several fraternal organizations.

Cantlin’s second wife, Luctretia, was a Protestant and is buried in Blair Cemetery.

I did find it curious to find that after his obituary listed his memberships (Grand Army of the Republic, Ancient Order of United Workers and Woodmen of the World) that he “carried about $8,000 insurance.” That seems like personal information the public doesn’t need to know.

I’m always intrigued by unusual words on grave markers so this one caught my eye.

Instead of “born” and “died”, Eliza was “at home” and “left home.”

A native of West Virginia, Limnah “Linney” A. Wilcox was born in 1838. He married Eliza Sophia “Sophy” Davis sometime in the 1860s in Amesville, Ohio where they had a son and two daughters. After the Civil War in 1867, the Wilcoxes moved to Nebraska. He was foreman of a bridge crew with a railroad company and became one of the first residents of Blair, owning a home on Grant Street as Rufus Claar did.

According to his obituary, Linney asked railroad officials to set a box car on a side track so Sunday School might be held in it, with Linney leading the singing. He was one of the original members of Blair’s Methodist church. He and Sophy had a few more children.

Sophy “left home” in 1907. Life must have been difficult for Linney without her because by 1910, he had moved to Missoula, Mont. to live with daughter Lizzy and her family. When they moved to Spokane, Wash., he followed. After he died in 1923, his surviving children gathered in Blair to lay him to rest beside Sophy.

This collection of different rocks topping the grave of Ellis Wilcox is curious.

Next to Sophy and L.A.’s graves is a much less traditional marker for their son, Ellis Herbert “Bert” Wilcox. It’s a hodgepodge of colorful stones. I’ve seen some similar graves in Nebraska cemeteries. He was born in Ohio in 1861. He married Florence Brown in Iowa in 1884 but it looks like they divorced.

According to his obituary, Bert was a registered pharmacist and served in the hospital corps of the Nebraska National Guard “during the Indian outbreak up at the Pine Ridge agency.” I believe this refers to the Battle of Wounded Knee in South Dakota in 1890.

Bert remarried in 1893 to a woman named Luillia and they had a daughter, Iva. I think this marriage ended in divorce as well since she is not mentioned in his obituary, but Iva is listed and was residing elsewhere.

According to business directories, Bert left Blair and lived in Omaha, working various jobs from clerk to bartender. His obituary notes he was manager of the Dahlman Club rooms (a Democratic organization) at the time of his death in 1912, which was attributed to organic heart disease. He was only 50 years old.

As they would do so for their father years later, the Wilcox siblings gathered in Blair to bury their brother.

I left Blair City Cemetery feeling glad I’d been able to pay a longer visit to my cousin Rufus’ grave. Having visited many Nebraska cemeteries where I knew not a single person, I can happily say that there’s one in which a relative of mine is buried.

This is the end of the Nebraska portion of my April 2016 journey. I took one last stop at Fairview Cemetery in Council Bluff, Iowa (just across the Missouri River) from Omaha. I’ll share that visit next time.

The epitaph of Phebe Pace, who died in 1874 at the age of 69.

Wisner Cemetery: Cheese, Corn and a Superhero, Part II

The back hillside of Wisner Cemetery had some interesting markers I wanted to see. Especially the two white bronze (zinc) markers I noticed.

The white bronze marker for Auguste Nathen is simple but it tells you what you need to know, even if it’s written in German. Auguste was the wife (or “frau”) of Johann Nathen. She was 52 when she died. I’ve seen this particular marker in several other cemeteries, so it must have been a popular model in the Western White Bronze Co. cataglog.

This marker was probably ordered from the Western White Bronze Co. (the closest manufacturer being in Iowa) catalog and shipped to Wisner. A kit showed you how to put it together.

I tried to find out what I could about Auguste but there was only a few ship listings from the right time period from Germany (then called Prussia) and she was alone. So I’m not sure I had the right person.

I suspect she and Johann were German immigrants that came to Nebraska later in their marriage and may have never been included in any censuses taken. There are a few other Nathens listed on census records as living nearby but I could not draw any connection between them and these Nathens.

Not far away is another white bronze marker but this one is much grander and has some lovely symbolism attached to it. I took pictures of it from every angle.

Gust Janssen remains a mystery to me.

The praying angel motif is common on white bronze monuments.

The other side of the Janssen monument features an ear of corn.

I had little success in finding out much about Gust (possibly short for August) Janssen. He was 31 when he died. There are no other Janssens buried at Wisner Cemetery. The sweet inscription on his monument appears to be in German.

I used Google Translate to figure out what the it said:

We lay down, weeping, in this silent sleep.
Never will you return to us again.
Oh, so we are weeping thickly.
But the hour is long, when we meet again
And unite in a happy covenant, before the throne of God.

One panel features a bird in flight, which is symbolic of the “winged soul.” The representation of the soul as a bird goes back to ancient Egypt. Some older burial art features only wings to convey the symbol of divine mission.

A bird in flight sometimes signifies the death of a child or a young person.

Finding an ear of corn on the side of a white bronze marker was a delightful surprise. I learned that it was a country custom to send a sheaf to relatives on the death of a farmer. Gust Janssen was clearly a farmer.

I was curious to find out just how much corn Nebraska does produce today. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service in 2012, Nebraska’s corn crop results in $9.1 billion from 9.1 million acres harvested. While Nebraska ranks third among states in overall corn production, it ranks #1 in white corn production.

I’ve seen wheat sheaves on monuments before but not corn.

The monument for Ethel Westerhold is on the same hillside and it’s hard not to stop when you see it.

Ethel’s younger sister, Hazel, is buried behind her.

August and Emily Parks Westerhold were both German immigrants who married sometime in the 1890s. Ethel Westerhold was born on March 5, 1896. After only 16 months, she passed away on July 8, 1897.

Little Ethel Westerhold was barely a year old when she died.

August and Emily had a daughter, Hazel, in 1899. Emily died in 1905 and August married Augusta Wieland in 1906. Together they would have four children who survived well into adulthood. Hazel, who is buried behind her sister Ether, married William Goree in 1921. Hazel died in 1924, a day after she gave birth to her son, Harvey.

Back up on the flatter land, I snapped a picture of this monument for Milton B. Fraser. By checking on Ancestry, I found he’d spent almost his entire life in Oneida County, New York. Born in 1818, he married Laura Mason and they had several children before her death in 1861. She was 37 at the time. He married Alzina Mowers a few years later. She was 22 years his junior.

Milton Fraser was in his 60s when he and his family moved to Nebraska.

According to the 1870 U.S. Census, he was listed as a dealer in patents. What did that mean? Apparently, Milton was a cheese expert and applied for several patents involving cheese presses and hoops. I found a book discussing the merits of Fraser Gang Hoops and the Fraser Gang Press. The illustration below details one of his hoops.

Milton Fraser brought his cheese making expertise from New York to Wisner.

Sometime after 1880, Milton and Alzina left Oneida County with their family and headed for Wisner. I’m not sure why. He died only six years later of inflammatory rheumatism. The obituary published in an Oneida newspaper reported he made and sold cheese (with his patented gang cheese press) at a site on Front Street in Wisner.

His obituary also notes his relation to a brother, Dr. C.E. Fraser. I couldn’t find conclusive information about him. But his brother living in Wisner may be why Milton chose to move all the way to Nebraska from the comforts of New York.

Christopher Bowden spent most of his life in England and Mineral Point, Wisc. before moving to Nebraska in the 1880s.

Christopher Bowden and his wife, Elizabeth, emigrated from England to Wisconsin sometime in the late 1840s with their two children. When they moved to Nebraska is unclear, but it was in the 1880s. Their daughter, Elizabeth, died in Wisner in December 1887 at the age of 29. Her marker is broken in two but I had Christi lift it up temporarily so we could photograph it.

Elizabeth Bowden is listed as “sick” on the 1880 U.S. Census.

Elizabeth’s epitaph reads:

I now shall slumber in the ground
Till the last joyful trump shall sound
Then burst the chains of sweet surprise
And in my Savior’s image rise.

Not far from Christopher’s grave is the monument for one of his sons, Lewis. He married Jennie Sheldon in 1882 in Wisconsin. They had one son (William) before moving to Wisner. This is around the time that I believe his parents moved there and some of his brothers. But by 1887, Lewis had returned to Wisconsin with Jennie, where they had three more children.

According to the 1900 U.S. Census, Lewis is listed as married but working as a farmhand in Plymouth, Wisc., while Jennie and the children are living in Brodhead, Wisc. I believe the couple had separated at this time. He is listed in the 1910 U.S. Census as living back in Nebraska and was divorced, while Jennie remained in Wisconsin, always listed as widowed.

You can see Lewis’ father’s monument right behind his.

Lewis won a prize for his Legal Tender variety of corn at the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition of 1905, held in Portland, Ore. During the exposition’s four-month run, it attracted over 1.6 million visitors, and featured exhibits from 21 countries. He also bred short-horn cattle with his bachelor brother, John Edgard Bowden. Their mother, Elizabeth, lived with John in her last years. Brother Francis had success breeding pigs.

This is a photo of a “corn pyramid” on display at Nebraska’s exhibit at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, Ore. Photo source: Report of the Nebraska State Commission to the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition at Portland, Oregon.

Lewis died at the age of 55. I don’t know if he ever saw any of his children again after he returned to Nebraska.

Finally, on our way to the car, I caught sight of this marker. I never knew that Thor was actually a surname before now. But apparently it is!

Marleen Thor died in 2006, but John Thor is still alive.

There’s a rather sad footnote to this post. I learned that a few months after our visit, a man vandalized both Wisner Cemetery and nearby Beamer Cemetery. I’m not sure of the extent of the damage (it looked like it was more destruction of items on the graves and not the actual markers) but the local residents were understandably upset. The culprit only received a ticket for his crimes, I read. I hope he was charged with more than that.

As we headed out of the cemetery, I got a nice picture of one of Nebraska’s many barns.

Nebraska has too many cool-looking barns to count.

Then we got back on the road for our last stop, Blair Cemetery, where my very first cemetery “hop” took place some years ago. Where it all began…

On the road to Blair!

Wisner Cemetery: Remembering Medal of Honor Recipient PFC Dale M. Hansen, Part I

About 12 miles from Pilger is the town of Wisner, Neb. When looking on Find a Grave, I saw that only 42 percent of Wisner Cemetery was photographed. Being able to help add photos while seeing a new cemetery is a great “double shot” for me so we decided to make a stop. I had no idea what a wise choice we’d made.

First known as Elmont Precinct, Wisner was platted by the Elkhorn Land & Town Site Company with the actual filing submitted July 22, 1871. Wisner was named after S.P. Wisner, a vice president with the railroad company. On or about July 20, 1871, the railroad was completed, and on July 26 town lots were sold at auction to the highest bidder. Wisner became an incorporated village on May 14, 1873.

Undated photo of Wisnder’s Chicago and Northwestern Railroad depot. (Photo source: USGenWeb Archives)

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I didn’t look at the map properly when determining where the cemetery entrance was. We drove to the back of a subdivision and walked up a steep hill to find the back gate. Oddly enough, we found animal bones scattered on the road.

Seeing bones scattered on the hillside behind Wisner Cemetery did give me pause until I realized they were animal bones.

Once I realized my error, we backtracked and found the proper route to the front gate. Wisner Cemetery is well tended and laid out in an organized manner. There’s a very helpful master directory inside of a metal box to help you find where graves are located.

Like many Nebraska cemeteries, there’s a metal box protecting a master directory of graves/locations.

One of the first markers near the front gate that I saw was this one for David Svatos. There’s a big rig carved into his marker and a metal one was attached on top. I learned from his obituary that David had driven trucks from an early age. He was only 50 when he died.

David Wisner’s profession as a trucker is evident from his monument.

It wasn’t long before I made a wonderful discovery. Wisner Cemetery is the final resting place of a Medal of Honor recipient.

The Medal of Honor is the U.S.’s highest and most prestigious personal military decoration that’s awarded to recognize U.S. military service members who distinguished themselves by acts of valor. The medal is normally awarded by the President in the name of the U.S. Congress. The Medal of Honor has been awarded to 3,496 different people.

There are three versions of the medal, one for the Army, one for the Navy and one for the Air Force. Personnel of the Marine Corps and Coast Guard receive the Navy version.

Dale M. Hansen was born and raised in Wisner, Neb.

The son of Peter and Lillian Schulz Hansen, Dale Merlin Hansen was born in Wisner on Dec. 13, 1922. While attending schools, he helped out on the family farm. He graduated from high school in 1940.

Dale’s younger brother, Forrest, remembers growing up with Dale and his other brothers, Larry and Don. “Typical boys. There were four of us you know how they are, riding the ponies and horses and stuff like that.”

Dale was inducted into the Marine Corps Reserve on May 11, 1944. He completed training at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, Calif. and was assigned to the Infantry Training Battalion at Camp Pendleton, where he underwent four weeks of infantry indoctrination and two weeks of training with the Browning Automatic Rifle, scoring 175 to become an Expert Automatic Rifleman.

U.S. Marine PFC Dale M. Hansen was born and raised in Wisner. Photo source: Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy

Dale headed for the Pacific Theater on Nov. 12, 1944 with a replacement draft. In December, he joined Company E, 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines, at Pavuvu in the Russell Islands. While there, he underwent bazooka training before sailing with the 1st Marine Division for maneuvers at Banika Island and Guadalcanal in February 1945. In March, after a few more days back at Pavuvu, the division left for Okinawa where Dale landed with his unit on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945.

The action which brought him the Medal of Honor occurred in the battle for Hill 60 on the Southern part of the island. On May 7, after destroying a strategic pillbox with a rocket launcher, his weapon was destroyed. Continuing his assault alone, he bravely destroyed a mortar position and 12 enemy soldiers during the course of battle. His determination and total disregard of personal danger helped his unit take a well-defended enemy position.

Three days later, Dale was killed by a Japanese sniper on May 11, 1945 in the Wana-Dakeshi Ridge. He was 22 years old.

PFC Hansen also received the Purple Heart.

Forrest Hansen remembers being at home, when the family received the last telegram. “Figured something was wrong because we hadn’t heard nothing for 30 days,” he said.

The Medal of Honor was presented to Dale’s parents on May 30, 1945 by the officer in charge of the Midwestern Recruiting Division as part of Wisner’s Memorial Day observance. He was initially buried in the 1st Marine Division Cemetery on Okinawa, but his remains were returned to the U.S. in 1948 for burial in Wisner Cemetery.

Camp Hansen was named after Dale Hansen, to honor his sacrifice during World War II.

Built in the 1950s, Marine Corps Base Camp Smedley D. Butler is a collection of facilities and satellite installations on Okinawa. Camp Hansen is one of them and was named in honor of Dale Hansen. It houses about 6,000 Marines and holds the record for the most Marines that re-enlist in the Marine Corps.

Dale’s younger brother, Don, also served in the U.S. Marines as a PFC from May 11, 1944 (inducted on the same day as Dale) until May 11, 1946 in Okinawa. He was a recipient of the Purple Heart. He died in March 2012 and is buried right behind Dale.

I took a moment to say a prayer of thanks for the brothers. To think about what it all meant. Two farm boys who left the innocence of the Nebraska prairie to face the brutality of war. Both left for Okinawa in 1944 but only one came back. The Hansen family, as many others touched by war, would never be the same.

PFC Donald Hansen was awarded the Purple Heart. He is buried directly behind his brother Dale.

One much less historic but very useful feature unique to Wisner Cemetery is that it has its own functioning outhouse! At first, I thought it might be a shed for tools and equipment, but happily found it was an authentic vintage “Port a John”, complete with toilet paper.

What looks like a shed is actually an outhouse!

The inside looked much better than I imagined, which tells me that those caring for the cemetery actually use it. I tried it out myself because to be honest, I really had to go. I wish more cemeteries had them for hoppers like me!

Many thanks to whomever maintains this outhouse, I am quite grateful.

The Ziebell family has five markers at Wisner Cemetery. Arthur Ziebell, a native of Indiana, married Elsie Sherrifs in 1902 in Iowa. The 1910 U.S. Census indicates they had three children: Charles, Francis and Earl. They later had a daughter, Margaret, in 1913.

Arthur Ziebell was 44 when he died in 1918.

Arthur and Elsie both died in 1918, which leads me to believe it was from the Spanish Flu. Arthur’s exact day and month of death is unknown, but Elsie died on Nov. 5, 1918. Margaret died at the age of 9 in 1922. I believe all their other children survived well into adulthood. Arthur’s father, Anton, is also buried at Wisner Cemetery.

Elsie died the same year as her husband, Arthur. They left behind four children.

I found another potential Spanish Flu victim not far away. A native of Norway born in 1846, Carrie Johnson married Ole Field sometime before 1868 in Wisconsin. They had three children together and were living in Wisner by 1880. Ole died in 1886, his cause of death is unknown. Carrie, who never remarried, died 32 years later on Oct. 29, 1918. This was only a few days after Elsie Ziebell died.

Carrie Field died in 1918, possibly of the Spanish flu. She was 74.

We’d only just gotten started at Wisner so I’ll share more about our visit next time.

That’s Christi in the purple jacket.

Nebraska’s Pilger Cemetery: The Tiny Town Too Tough to Die

Last week, I shared about my visit to Prospect Hill Cemetery in Norfolk, Neb. I thought our next stop (after the Norfolk Hospital for the Mentally Insane cemeteries) was Blair Cemetery but after going through my photos, I discovered two stops I totally forgot about on the way to Blair. The first one is Pilger.

Pilger Cemetery is just off the corner of Highway 275 and 574th Ave. Pilger itself is tiny. The current population is around 350. Brothers Charles and Mitchell Sharp were the first settlers in 1865 near Humbug Creek, a tributary of the Elkhorn River. They returned to Omaha to spend the winter, but came back the following spring with other families.

Pilger stands on what was the Peter Schauble homestead. The first residence, a log cabin built by Andrew Schauble, later became a stage coach station. A post office, established in July 1868, was given the name “Canton.”

In 1874, John Peter Pilger and his wife purchased 160 acres along the Elkhorn. Five years later, when the Fremont, Elkhorn & Missouri Valley Railroad was being planned, the Pilgers sold their land and moved to Stanton.

Pilger’s main street in the early 1900s. Photo source: University of Nebraska (Lincoln), Center for Advanced Land Management Information Technologies (CALMIT)

In May 1879, bonds were issued to help build the railroad through the county. A depot was built immediately and the first train arrived in Pilger on September 15, 1879. The following year, the Pioneer Townsite Company purchased the land, platted the town, and managed the sale of lots. Records indicate that the name of the post office was not changed to “Pilger” until July 1884.

Pilger Cemetery is located on a rather steep hillside. I recommend parking at the top to get a nice view.

During the village’s centennial celebrations in the 1980s, the motto “the tiny town too tough do die” was born. It was meant to celebrate the fact that through many decades of change, Pilger had managed to survive despite having a small population.

That motto was put to the test on June 16, 2014 when twin tornadoes destroyed about 75 percent of Pilger’s homes and businesses. Two people died and 16 were injured. To get an idea of how bad it was, take a look at these photos and a map of the town.

Pilger is still in the long process of rebuilding but they are determined to not let the tragedy snuff out their small town.

A little girl is pulled out of a basement after twin tornadoes hit Pilger, Neb. in June 2014. Photo source: Mark Farnik, Associated Press

Pilger Cemetery is not hard to find and is located against a somewhat steep hillside. It made for good exercise. According to Find a Grave, there are about 1,400 marked graves. There looks to be room for plenty of future burials.

Pilger Cemetery’s most famous resident is Major League Baseball player Lyle Forrest “Bud” Tinning. I didn’t know that when we stopped to visit. His marker is very simple so it didn’t stand out. His mother, a member of the pioneering Allison family of Stanton City, died in childbirth when he was two.

A Pilger native, Lyle Forrest “Bud” Tinning struck out Babe Ruth in 1932.

Bud attended Pilger High School for two years but quit to help his father on the family farm. In the summer, Bud played baseball with country teams on local sandlots or in pastures. He was first noticed by professional baseball scouts while pitching for the Genoa town team, and began his professional career with the Omaha Packers, a franchise in the Western League.

1934 Goudey baseball card of Bud Tinning of the Chicago Cubs as #71.

Bud played professional baseball from 1932 to 1935 as a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals. In the 1932 World Series, Bud pitched three shutout innings against the Yankees in two relief appearances, and struck out Babe Ruth. The Baseball Almanac described Bud as “a crafty pitcher who started about one third of his games”.

This photo of Bud Tinning’s grave is from Find a Grave so I didn’t actually see it during my visit.

An injury in 1935 ended Bud’s career, although he had a brief comeback attempt in the minor leagues. He served as a minor league manager for several years. During his baseball years, Bud regularly returned to his hometown of Pilger to visit. Bud died of a heart attack in 1961. He and his wife, Inez, had no children.

The monument for the three Olk children got my attention during out visit. All died quite young.

Jacob Olk, a native of Germany, arrived in Nebraska in the 1880s and opened the Pioneer Blacksmith and Repair Shop. His younger brother, Theodore, came over in 1888 and opened an implement shop. Theodore was 31 at the time and a bachelor.

At some point before 1913, Theodore married a fellow German immigrant named Marianna. Only a teenager, she was 31 years his junior. Together, they had three children: Gretchen, Evelyn and Bernhard.

The longest living Olk child was Bernhard, who lived to the age of five.

Gretchen, the youngest, lived the shortest time. Born in October 1916, she died less than a month later. Cause of death is not known.

But her siblings Bernhard and Evelyn may have died of the Spanish Flu. Bernhard, who was born in July 1913, died on Dec. 18, 1918. His sister, Evelyn, was born in October 1915. She died only a day after her brother on Dec. 19, 1918. If the Olks had any other children, they did not survive. According to future U.S. Census records, Theodore and Marianna had no children living with them.

A Madonna graces the monument for the three Olk children.

Theodore outlived his younger wife and died at the age of 88 in 1955. Marianna died at the age of 51 in 1947.

There were several lamb-topped markers signifying the graves of children at Pilger. But this kneeling lamb was a little different than the others.

Alta Belle Foy was only three years old when she died.

John and Minnie Foy were the parents of little Alta Belle. She had two brothers and two sisters, along with a sibling who had died before her birth. Alta Belle died at the age of three for unknown reasons. Most of John and Minnie’s children would survive into adulthood.

This little lamb’s face stayed with me.

Not far from Alta Belle’s marker is one for Fern Caauwe. She was born on Aug. 31, 1908 and died only a few months later. I’ve seen doves on graves quite often but not usually on an infant’s grave. It was still just as poignant.

A cousin of Fern’s, Clara Caauwe, is buried nearby. She was only two when she died.

The last picture I took at Pilger was randomly chosen. For some reason, Otto Melcher’s monument got my attention. He died at the age of 35, the prime of his life.

Otto and his siblings were born in Nebraska, their German parents having emigrated some years before. He married Anna Woehler in 1906 and their only daughter, Olga, was born a year later.

Several Melchers settled in Pilger and the surrounding area.

For reasons unknown, Otto died in 1909. Anna and Olga moved in with Anna’s parents, William and Doris Woehler. Anna died in 1911 and Olga continued to live with her grandparents.

I was hoping for a happy ending for Olga but she, too, would die fairly young. She married Waldeman Nissen in Sioux City, Iowa in 1923. She and Waldeman had four children. One died in infancy, one died at the age of 19, and the other two lived well into their 70s. Olga died at the age of 23, about four months after the birth of her last child. She is buried at Pilger Cemetery with her parents, husband and two of her children.

On the end of that visit, standing on a hillside looking out across the graves and nearby farms, I was grateful that I’d made it to (almost) 48. So many of the people buried at Pilger didn’t have that blessing. But the ones that did kept the town going. And many of their descendants stayed to continue that effort.

Even twin tornadoes won’t keep Pilger down. It’s just too tough to die.

 

Herrrre’s Norfolk!: Johnny Carson and Nebraska’s Prospect Hill Cemetery

It was evening by the time we reached Norfolk. It’s about 85 miles Northeast of Central City, where we were driving from.

The next morning, we settled on seeing Prospect Hill Cemetery before heading out toward the former Norfolk State Hospital for the Insane and its cemeteries. You can read about that part of our trip here.

In late 1865, three scouts left from a German Lutheran settlement near Ixonia, Wisc. to find farmland they could claim under the Homestead Act. On September 15, they reached the junction of the Elkhorn River and its north fork, and chose that area as a settlement site. On July 15, 1866, 124 settlers in three wagon trains representing 42 families from the Ixonia area arrived. A second group from Wisconsin arrived in July 1867.

Map of Norfolk, Neb. from 1889. Photo source: World Maps Online.com.

Before we arrived in Norfolk, Christi told me to be sure to pronounce it “Nor-fork” instead of “Nor-folk” (like the city in Virginia) or I’d sound like an out-of-towner. I wondered about this until I read more about Norfolk.

The original name of the colony was a variant of “North Fork”, but accounts differ on the exact name: “Northfork”, “Nor’fork”, and “Nordfork” are all suggested. The name was submitted to federal postal authorities, and at some point was transmuted to “Norfolk”. So that’s the story behind the distinct pronunciation.

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, Norfolk’s population was 24,210. This makes it the ninth-largest city in Nebraska. Norfolk’s main claim to fame is one man: Tonight Show host and TV icon Johnny Carson.

John William “Johnny” Carson was born on Oct. 23, 1925, in Corning, Iowa to Homer Lloyd “Kit” Carson and Ruth Elizabeth Hook Carson. The family moved to Norfolk when Carson was eight. He was fascinated with magic. At age 12, Carson’s mother sewed him a cape, and his first performance was staged in front of the local Kiwanis Club. He debuted as “The Great Carsoni” at age 14 and was paid $3 a show.

Early publicity still of Johnny Carson.

After a stint in the U.S. Navy, Carson attended the University of Nebraska at Lincoln to study journalism but switched to radio broadcasting. He ended up at WOW radio and television in Omaha in 1950. Carson hosted a morning TV program called The Squirrel’s Nest. One of his routines involved interviewing pigeons on the roof of the local courthouse that would allegedly report on the political corruption they had seen.

A few years later, Carson headed for California and his career took off from there. But he never forgot his Norfolk roots. I wish we’d had time to drive by his boyhood home. It was nearly destroyed when a man accidentally plowed into it with his SUV in 2011. But someone bought it in 2014 with plans to bring it back to its former glory.

A 1987 picture of Jimmy Stewart chatting with Johnny Carson. I loved watching those two together. Photo source: NBCU Photo Bank

Carson ended his run on the Tonight Show on May 22, 1992. Bette Middler, a singer I usually don’t like very much (please don’t hate me) sang “One For My Baby” to him. Like most of the country, I bawled my eyes out watching her pay tribute to a man who’d been part of my life ever since I could remember. He died on Jan. 23, 2005 and was cremated, so he is not buried at Propsect Hill (or any cemetery).

I found very little information about Prospect Hill Cemetery online. The original 10 acres were donated by the Hon. Samuel Storrs Cotton. A gentleman named James Y. Craig, then superintendent and landscape gardener for Omaha’s Forest Lawn Cemetery, remodeled the cemetery in the 1890s. According to the 1895 book I found this information in, the cemetery was then at about 30 acres. I don’t know what the current acreage is.

In a 1905 newspaper article, Samuel Storrs Cotton is referred to as “Col. Cotton” and as “one of the wealthiest landholders in the state of Nebraska.” He did serve in the last years of the Civil War but I don’t think he ever made it to colonel.

I unwittingly photographed Samuel Storrs Cotton’s monument while I was at Prospect Hill. From what I could piece together, the Connecticut native didn’t come to Nebraska until after 1880. He appears on the 1885 Nebraska Census with his daughter and other family members. He was 61 at the time and listed as a mill proprietor.

Because of that, I don’t think Prospect Hill was officially established until sometime after 1880 since he provided the land. I did see a marker with a burial date of 1870 so my thought is that the land was already being used as a cemetery. From Find a Grave, I saw it has around 6,800 burials recorded but I know there are more than that. It’s still an active cemetery.

One of the first things you see when you drive up into Prospect Hill is a large statue of Abraham Lincoln. The base says that it was dedicated in 1939 by the Women’s Relief Corps, relatives and friends to honor of Norfolk’s Civil War veterans.

Prospect Hill’s statue of Abraham Lincoln was dedicated in 1939. He could use a little TLC.

I liked the rugged simplicity of the DeFord monument for Dick and Gertrude DeFord.

The monument for Dick and Gertrude DeFord.

According to the 1920 U.S. Census, both Dick and Gertrude were photographers. Although they are buried in Norfolk, I can only find records that indicate they lived in Lincoln. A native of Illinois, Dick came to Nebraska with his parents when he was a child. He and Gertrude had one child, Dick Jr.

Photographer by day and jazz orchestra leader by night, Dick DeFord died at the age of 45.

According to many Lincoln newspaper ads I saw from the early 1920s, Dick was also a popular jazz orchestra leader. He appeared at many venues around Lincoln, traveling to Iowa and Kansas occasionally. He died at the age of 45. Gertrude lived on several more years and died at the age of 90 in 1872.

I did feel a tug on my heart when I saw the graves of the three Heath children. Andrew Warren Heath and Myrtle “Mertie” Sewell Heath were both Nebraska natives. They married in February 1909 and lived much of their lives in Battle Creek, not far from Norfolk.

Between 1916 and 1919, the Heaths had three children. All of them (as far as I can tell) died at birth.

Harold was the Heaths’ first-born son who died in 1917.

Daughter Helen was born and died in April 1917.

Randolph Heath died in February 1919.

I could find no children listed as living with them in any of the U.S. Census records. I don’t know if they had other children who died. Neither Mertie or Andrew have markers at Prospect Hill as far as I know. They both died in the 1970s.

Richard Lidmila’s monument is a simple cross but I haven’t seen one with two crossed tree logs like this one before.

Richard Lidmila’s sister, Elayne, lived to the age of 88. She is buried in another cemetery.

Born in 1927, Richard served in Germany during World War II. His twin sister, Elayne, died in 2015. I recently heard from Ramona Lidmila that the twins’ mother, Mary, died shortly after their birth. Richard died in 1947 from injuries he received in a motorcycle accident.

This one is a puzzler. No birth/death date. I found his name listed in a few newspaper articles as being selected to help with Norfolk elections. But that’s all I could find. He was a member of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) No. 46 but my research indicates that camp was based in California.

W.H. Law’s marker indicates his IOOF affiliation but has no birth or death dates on it.

This small marker for Johney Farrell is in need to repair. He was only 18 months old when he died in 1893. His parents may be buried beside him but if so, their graves are unmarked.

“In loving remembrance of our boy…”

As we prepared to leave, I noticed there were a lot of Mullers buried in one area. Because my maiden name is Muller (what some might say are the Smith/Jones of Germany), I always get excited when I see it in cemeteries. I am related to Claars in Nebraska (whom I revisited in Blair the next day) but I don’t think any of my Muller relatives made it out that far.

At the same time, I felt it was my duty as a Muller to stop and wish them well before we left.

This is what your hair looks like after gusting winds hit you.

Next time, I’ll wrap up the Nebraska portion of my April 2016 trip at Blair Cemetery.