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

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.

I found little information about Richard, only his World War II draft record when he enlisted in 1945. His sister, Elayne, died in 2015 and her birthday was May 1927. I believe they were probably twins. He is listed in her obituary.

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.


Nebraska’s Central City Cemetery: The “Dread Scourge” of 1882, Part II

Last week, I shared some stories about my visit to Central City Cemetery. A kind reader, Nancy Johnson, left a comment that filled in some of the gaps about the history and people I mentioned. She said the cemetery (established in 1877) was originally located on south Highway 14 on the west side of the street. Graves were moved from that location and from other small and private cemeteries.

If you want to learn more about Anna Holtorf and the Rev. Wesley Wilson (not Willson as inscribed on his monument), I’ve added Nancy’s information to the original blog post.

Jessie Baker’s monument has a little crown on it. I see many lambs, flowers and crosses on monuments but not crowns. Especially on a younger person’s marker. It made me curious to find out more.

Daughter of Ruben and Lurancy Baker, Jessie and her two brothers were born in Pennsylvania before coming to Central City. Eldest brother Burton was a school teacher while Mark taught music, according to the 1880 U.S. Census. Jessie was a bit younger than her brothers, who were both in their 20s. She was only 13 when she died.

Jessie Baker was a 13-year-old schoolgirl when she died in 1882. My apologies for the blurriness of the photo.

I don’t know what Jessie died of but her obituary indicates she was ill for several weeks. Fortunately, the person who created her Find a Grave memorial posted her obituary. I’ve read many similar to hers of young people who died in their teens:

Possessed of an active, cheerful, and affectionate nature, she was a great favorite with her schoolmates, while her earnest and studious disposition gained her the love and esteem of her teachers. Her courage and cheerfulness never flagged during her sickness, and this fact gave hope of her recovery almost to the end.

Ruben Baker’s profession was listed as “tombstone agent” in the 1885 Nebraska Census. Perhaps that’s why he was able to purchase this monument featuring a crown motif, which I don’t often see for younger people.

On the 1885 Nebraska Census, Ruben Baker’s profession is listed as “tombstone agent.” This was not always a full-time job but was combined with others and he was primarily a farmer.

In reading the obituaries of others buried at Central City, fall 1882 through 1883 was a year in which many children in Central City died of diphtheria. It’s a disease you don’t hear about in the U.S. now because it’s so incredibly rare. Between 2004 and 2015, 2 cases of diphtheria were recorded in the U.S.

Immunization against diphtheria began in the 1920s but before then, it killed thousands. The U.S. recorded 206,000 cases of diphtheria in 1921, resulting in 15,520 deaths.

One family that truly suffered during that 1882-1883 diphtheria outbreak was the Persons family. The photo below of the Harrison E. Persons family plot was taken by Ann Berry for Find a Grave. I tried to piece together the timeline of children and birth/death dates, but if I have made an error, please let me know.

The grave stones for six of Harrison E. and Chrissie J. Persons’ children. Three died of diphtheria. The parents’ stones are on the left and right of the tree monument. Photo source: Ann Berry, Find a Grave.

In 1871, Harrison W. and Mary Fish Persons moved from their native Vermont to Central City with their large family (some already adults). Three of their sons were Fred, Harry V. and Harrison E. Harrison (the elder) built a small general merchandise store in Central City that he later expanded.

In 1876, Harrison E. married Chrissie Jane Burk, who came from Ohio to Central City with her parents Henry and Lucinda Burk. By 1880, Harrison E. and Chrissie had two children, Jessie, 2, and Franklin “Frankie”, 1. In November 1880, a daughter, Hattie was born. She died on January 15, 1881 from unknown causes.

Sadly, most of the branches on the Persons family tree were cut far too soon. In cemetery motifs, ferns convey frankness, humility, and sincerity.

Frankie died of diphtheria on Dec. 26, 1882. On Jan. 6, little Percy (who was only 10 months old) died of diphtheria as well. Finally, on Jan. 9, Jessie died at the age of five years, 2 months and 22 days. All of Harrison E. and Chrissie’s children were gone.

The Central City Courier noted the Persons’ overwhelming loss:

Of the many who have been lately bereaved by that dread scourge, none more richly deserve the sympathy of the community than the family of H.E. Persons upon whom the hand of affliction has fallen with rapid strokes, until their home has been left utterly childless. The father and mother have watched and hoped…that their household might pass unscathed by the destroyer. The entire community, many of whom have lately stood agonized and helpless at the bedside of their own little ones, sympathize deeply with Mr. and Mrs. Persons in their affliction.

Amid their sadness, the couple adopted a baby named Charlie who would die a few months later in September 1883 (not of diphtheria). Chrissie gave birth to a boy, Willie, in 1887, but he died in 1891 for unknown reasons.

Cholera infantum (more often dysentery) was once a common killer of infants in the summer months. It shouldn’t be confused with Asiatic cholera, often caused by unclean water. Notice printed in the Sept. 20, 1883 Central City Courier.

Brother Fred and his wife, Jennie, were also hit by tragedy during the “dread scourge”. Their children, Bertha and George, died within days of each other in October 1882.

Brother Harry and his wife, also named Jennie, lost children as well. According to the Central City Nonpareil, the first child who died on Nov. 26 was not named. The item read: “A two-year-old child of Harry Persons died of diphtheria Sunday evening, was buried Monday. Two other members of the family are sick with the same disease.”

Lizzie Persons was only four when she died during the “scourge” of 1882.

Their daughter, Lizzie, died on Dec. 1 at the age of four of diphtheria.

Harrison E. died only a year after Willie in 1892. I could only find one other mention of Chrissie, who was living in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1917 according to a city directory. She died in 1929. She is buried with her husband and their children. Harry V. died in 1906 and Fred died in 1926. All of them are buried at Central City Cemetery.

Chrissie Persons is buried with her family. She outlived all of them.

There are countless others who died during that tragic period that are buried at Central City Cemetery. Some of their graves are marked but I’m certain there are even more that are unmarked.

Near the end of our visit, I caught sight of a monument that I wanted to look at more closely. I’ve written about these “baby on a half shell” monuments in the past. They fascinate me because they were popular during the later Victorian era and some of them are intricately carved.

Markers such as these were often purchased by families who had lost several children but did not have individual markers.

Looking through my pictures, I could not find any specific markers for individual children near this monument. But that isn’t unusual. Many times, a family simply purchased one monument to represent all of their children who died. I don’t know if these children died during the 1882 diphtheria outbreak, but it’s possible.

As we left Central City Cemetery, I thought of how I could have spent several more hours there. I also thought about the Persons family, the children who died of an illness that is now easily prevented by a vaccine. How I take for granted that I don’t have to worry about my own son falling prey to it.

It’s a blessing I thank the Lord for as he grows up.

Civil War monument at Central City Cemetery. Nebraska was a territory during the Civil War but became a state in 1867.

Nebraska’s Central City Cemetery: Two Precious Gems and a Lone Tree, Part I

When doing research for this post, I again concluded that in those pioneer days you had to be realistic about death. Sometimes it left you alone for several decades. Maybe you could make it to middle age. But more often, it stole little children or young adults just entering their prime.

With over 5,400 marked graves and room for another 1,500, Central City Cemetery is located on Highway 14, just north of town amid wide fields. I was initially unable to find out what year it was established but it’s definitely old. After I published this post, kind reader Nancy Johnson contacted me to say that the cemetery was originally located on south Highway 14 on the west side of the street. Graves were moved from that location and from other small and private cemeteries.

Central City Cemetery is well maintained. A directory near the front gate is available if you are searching for a particular grave.

With a current population a little under 3,000, Central City is the county seat of Merrick County. Before settlers arrived, the land was home to the Pawnee. Rival Pawnee tribes, the Chaui and the Skidi, frequently skirmished over the territory.

Organized in 1864, the county was named for Elvira Merrick, maiden name of the wife of territorial legislator Henry W. DePuy, who introduced the bill that created it. Naming places after the maiden names of the wives of prominent pioneers seems to be a trend in Nebraska, I am finding.

Central City was originally called Lone Tree. The first pioneers passed through the area via the Mormon Trail in 1847, and later on the Oregon Trail and the California Trail. This location was close to a huge cottonwood tree, called Lone Tree, that the pioneers used as a landmark.

This monument was erected in 1911 in memory of the “lone tree” that marked the Mormon and California Trails.

The lone tree died in 1863 and was blown over due to a storm in 1865. Part of the trunk was taken to Lone Tree train station and placed on the depot platform. Over time, fragments were carried away by tourists until it disappeared. In 1911, they erected a granite monument to honor the original tree. About 30 years later, another cottonwood tree was planted at the original tree’s location next to the granite monument.

Lone Tree became Central City in 1875. This is an undated picture of a view of 17th Avenue from H Street.

In 1875, some residents petitioned to have the town’s name changed from Lone Tree to Central City. Those in favor argued that the name Lone Tree gave the impression that the area was desolate and inhabitants were poor and uncivilized, limiting the growth of the area. Opponents thought Lone Tree portrayed a “beautiful spot and is a name dear to the pioneers.”

On July 1, 1875, the name was officially changed to from Lone Tree to Central City. People have been calling it that ever since.

I could (initially) find no information about Anna Holtorf.

One of the first graves I noticed was that of Anna Holtorf, who died at the age of 21. She’s one of 13 recorded Holtofs buried at Central City Cemetery. Initially, I could find no information about Anna because I didn’t know her maiden name.

Nancy let me know that she was originally Anna Barta, the daughter of immigrants John and Anna LaPour Barta. She married Ludwig Carsten Holtorf and they had a son, Henry, in October 1922. Anna died only a few months later in July 1923. Her sister Sophie and brother Edward, who lived much longer lives, are buried beside her.

I don’t see many portraits on older markers in Nebraska. This one was from Dedo, the respected Chicago firm that’s over 100 years old and still in operation. Nancy told me that until recent years, Anna’s was the only monument at Central City that had such a portrait on it.

Anna Holtorf was only 21 when she died. She died a few months after the birth of her son, Henry.

I especially liked the McCollister monument for its rustic simplicity. Nancy informed me that the stones were from Colorado. A monument much like it is at Bureau Cemetery, also in Merrick County.

The pinkish stone at the top right intrigues me most.

I’ve featured many children’s graves in my blog posts and this one is no exception. So it’s especially interesting to find a marker for someone who lived quite a long life. Mercy Martindale Nicholson Thorn qualifies.

Mercy was born in 1798 in Vermont and spent the first 30 years of her life there. She married Henry Nicholson in 1819 (she was 21) and together they had seven children. Five of them lived long lives like she did. By 1828, the Nicholsons had moved to Pennsylvania.

Henry died in 1837. Mercy married Richard Thorn, a veteran of the Mexican War, in 1843. By 1860, they were living in Iowa with Mercy’s daughter Mary Conner and her family. At this point, Richard was 74 and Mercy was 62. By 1880, they had moved with the Conners to Santa Barbara, Calif. Richard died in 1884 and is buried in California.

A native of Vermont, Mercy moved to Pennsylvania to Iowa to California and finally to Nebraska, where she died five days later.

Mercy and the Connors moved to Central City in March 1889. She died only a few days later.  Her obituary states: “Mrs. Thorn came to this city from California five days before her death with her son-in-law and daughter, Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Conner, with the intention of making her home with them in this county.”

It must had been quite sad for the Conners to bury Mary’s mother only a few days after reaching their new home.

When I saw the white bronze (which is actually zinc) monument for the two Holden girls, I knew there had to be a story behind it. Such a grand marker for two children is not common.

This lovely white bronze monument is in memory of Josie and Chloe Holden, who died within just a few days of each other.

A native of Canada, James G. Holden moved to Wisconsin after his father died. At 17, he joined the Wisconsin 13th Infantry, Company K, and fought for the Union for most of the Civil War. He married Mary Josephine “Josie” Bradt in 1870. Soon after, they moved to Nebraska and started a family. By 1880, he was serving as the county clerk of Merrick County. Sadly, death would visit them three times during the 1880s.

In May 1882, scarlet fever invaded the Holden home. On May 21, four-year-old Chloe Holden died. According to a newspaper article: “The family of Treasurer Holden is sorely afflicted. The remaining five children are all down with scarlet fever, and two, Josie and Hattie, are quite dangerously sick. It is to be devoutly hoped that this scourge may pass over without further loss of life.”

This was the initial marker made for little Josie. The white bronze monument was likely ordered and arrived months later.

Hattie survived but six-year-old Josie did not, dying on May 27. A different newspaper article stated: “Thus twice within a week has death entered this household and carried from it two precious gems. Certainly it is a deep and sad affliction and calls forth unbounded sympathy.”

Mother Josie gave birth to a final child, Raymond, in February 1889. But he died a little over a year later. I don’t know the cause of his death.

Not far away is another white bronze marker for the Rev. Wesley Wilson and his twin sons, William and Edward. Nancy, who has transcribed some of Rev. Wilson’s journals, told me that the spelling of “Willson” on the monument was an error.

The white bronze monument for Rev. Wesley Wilson and his twin sons, William and Edward.

A native of Illinois, Wesley Wilson was the oldest son of Henry Wilson and Harriet Breckon Willson. Born in 1854, he was an ordained Methodist minister. He married Julia Ann Russell in 1880. According to the Nebraska Census, they had two children, Walter and Charles, by 1885. His parents had moved to Nebraska to be with them.

I believe this to be a portrait of Methodist minister Wesley Wilson.

There were many traveling ministers in these pioneer days, evidenced by the “United Methodist Minister” seal on the Willson marker. He is listed as having served as a pastor at Loup City Methodist Church from 1882 to 1883, which is about an hour west of Central City. Nancy told me he was also one of the first pastor’s of Central City’s Fairview Methodist church.

Nancy also told me Wesley’s health was poor from the time he was a child. I found a short biography of him in a United Methodist annual conference book:

“He entered upon the year’s work with great zeal, laboring beyond his strength, riding and preaching while enduring great suffering. The last part of the year he was compelled to cease almost wholly from labor He continued to steadily decline, but did not give up the hope of recovery until very near the last. When convinced that he must die, he calmly submitted to the will of God, saying ‘It is alright.'”

It was not uncommon for Methodist ministers to cover a great deal of territory on a single horse, preaching in small towns along the way.

Before Wesley died, Julia had given birth to twin sons William and Edward on Jan. 29, 1886. William died a few days later on Feb. 2 ,1886. Wesley died on April 2, 1886. Little Edward died on May 14, 1886.

A woman clings to a cross, a motif seen often on older monuments.

A small news item remarked:

“Last week the remains of the late Rev. Wesley Willson and the two twins were taken up from the Henry Willson farm and taken to the cemetery at Central City were the graves could be appropriately decorated and marked as the sacred resting place of the loved ones.”

Julia married George Gagle (Nancy’s grandfather) a year later and they had at least five children together. George died in 1907. The 1920 Census lists Julia as a widow living with her son, William, and her daughter, Nellie (who was a teacher). Julia died in 1940 and is buried beside the monument shared by her first husband, Wesley, and their twin sons. George is buried with his first wife, Martha, in Burke Cemetery.

Despite the loss of a husband and twin sons, Julia remarried and had five more children.

There are more stories to share from Central City Cemetery. I hope you’ll come back to read them in Part II.

A Touch of Denmark: Stopping by St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery

My Nebraska posts usually focus on cemeteries established by communities. Today I’m going to share about my visit to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery in Kronborg, Neb. The cemetery may be located beside a church, but it’s been at the heart of the community since it began.

Kronborg is a tiny settlement in Hamilton County, about three miles from the nearest town of Marquette.  St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Cemetery is also referred to as Kronborg Cemetery because the church and the community are so intertwined.

More than 300,000 Danes came to America in the late 1800s and early 1900s, a small fraction of the total European emigration. At the same time, that number was about 10 percent of the population of Denmark in 1900. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

When you wander through Kronborg Cemetery, you can see Danish words on several of the monuments. The Danish name for the church is actually St. Johannes Danske Lutherske Kirke. Until the 1960s, St. John’s pastors were all native to Denmark.

The iron arch/sign over the entrance was made in 1900 after a disastrous tornado wiped out the original church. During our visit, the roof was getting some much needed repairs.

Thanks to information in the church’s National Register of Historic Places application, I learned more about Kronborg’s history. These documents are great for finding out not only architectural facts but the events that took place there.

The first Danes to arrive in the early 1870s established homesteads along Lincoln Creek, north of the present town of Hampton. Soon, Danish immigrants began settling in the Marquette and Kronborg area.

Kronborg didn’t actually get its name until 1909 when it was named after Kronborg Castle in Helsingør, Sjaeland, Denmark. Shakespeare enthusiasts know that Kronborg Castle served as Elsinore in the British playwright’s famous Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Elsinore is the anglicized name of the surrounding town of Helsingør.

Construction of Kronborg Castle began in the 1420, under the rule of Danish King Eric VII. Kronborg is known to many as Elsinore, the setting of Shakespere’s Hamlet.

Kronborg’s residents had a great admiration for famous Danish religious leader, poet and historian Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig. Born in 1783, Grundtvig was the son of a Lutheran pastor. He developed an educational philosophy that served as the foundation for Denmark’s folk schools and he favored more inclusive religious themes  (called Grundtvigianism).

While the community wanted to embrace all the aspects of their new home, it was clear they would never forget their Danish roots and wanted to keep them alive.

Nikolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig’s influence on Danish religious and educational institutions was felt far beyond his homeland. Portrait by Constantin Hansen.

Kronborg’s first church was completely destroyed on May 27, 1899 when a tornado swept through the area. You might remember my previous post on Plainfield Cemetery in Bradshaw, Neb., a town destroyed by a tornado in June 1890.

In the June 3, 1899 issue of the Hamilton County Register, someone wrote: “The Danish Lutheran church, costing $3,000, with its fine parsonage, school building, barn and cemetery, was left an utter wreck.” Photo source: Laura Mattingly, Pinterest.

St. John’s congregation quickly rebuilt. The present church, designed in the High Victorian Gothic style, and some of its outbuildings were completed in August 1900. Details include pointed arched windows and door openings, with decorative border trim along the eaves. Colored and stained glass windows are featured inside.

Unfortunately, workmen were making repairs to the roof of the church during our visit and we couldn’t go inside. My pictures of the outside were taken at more of a distance than I would have liked but I didn’t want to get hit by a stray shingle by getting too close.

It only took local carpenter Carl Jensen a little over a year to build a new church building in Kronborg. You can see the construction equipment to the right side of the church.

Side view of the church.

Interior of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. I found the picture on Pinterest.

One key group that formed at the church was the Ladies Aid Society, formed in 1883. It was headed by Jensine Bodholdt, wife of St. John’s first pastor, Knud Clausen Bodholdt, who served from 1882 to 1887. Her grave is surrounded by an iron railing with a stone noting her leadership.

Wife of St. John’s first pastor, Jensine Bodholdt was president of the first Ladies Aid Society.

The inscription on Jensine Bodholdt’s monument is in English and Danish.

As I mentioned earlier, many of the markers in St. John’s Cemetery have Danish inscriptions. You can see this in the Jensen family marker.

Lauritz Jensen became an American citizen in 1872, having come from Denmark to Wisconsin. He married Maren “Minnie” the same year. She also came from Denmark and became a citizen in 1867. They had their first two children, Lauritz Jr. and Tekla, in Wisconsin before moving to Nebraska.

Lauritz and Minnie Jensen met and married in Wisconsin after emigrating to America from Denmark.

Also, on either side of it, are the Danish equivalents of “mother” and “father” (“moder” and “fader”).

The Danish equivalent of “father” is “fader”.

The Danish equivalent of “mother” is “moder.”

You can also see the names of the Danish towns where many of Kronborg’s residents were originally born on their markers. An example of this is the Eriksen family.

Morten Eriksen was born in 1839 in Bjorup, Denmark. He married Maren Kirstine Born in the 1860s. She was from Falster, Denmark, a town only 10 miles away. They didn’t emigrate to America until 1882. By that time, they already had three children.

Morten Eriksen was born in Bjorup, Denmark in 1839. Bjorup is about 85 miles south of Copenhagen.

A native of Falster, Denmark, Maren Kirstine Born Eriksen outlived her husband by four years. She died in Omaha, Neb. but is buried in St. John’s Cemetery.

Morten died in 1917 and Maren went to live with her daughter, Emma, who lived with her husband in Omaha and had four children. Maren died in Omaha in 1921 but is buried at St. John’s with Morten. Son Carl is also buried there.

Upon first glance, the Larsen monument has some of the motifs you’d see in an older marker. The cross within the crown above the gates of Heaven is a common one, as is the log on top (a life cut short). But if you look closer, the condition would indicate it is fairly recent. My thought is that the original may have been damaged and they had a replacement made.

The Larsen family didn’t emigrate to America until Anders and Dorthe were in their 50s.

Born in 1827 in Guldager, Denmark, Anders Christian Larsen and his wife, Dorothe Kirstine Larsen, didn’t emigrate to America until 1879. Their four children had already been born.

The inscription on the front of the monument is in Danish so I couldn’t make out what it said. I tried Google translate but some of the words didn’t translate well. I welcome anyone who knows Danish to to share their thoughts with me about it.

I could not get a good translation of the Danish inscription on the Larsen monument.

Amid the older Danish inscripted monuments were also many modern ones, sharing the affiliations and pursuits of those they represent.

Raymond Steven Kelso was a lifelong Navy man. According to his obituary, he entered the U.S. Navy in December 1941. He served in the Pacific Theater during World War II and also served in Korea and Vietnam. He retired from the military in 1968.

Ray Kelso spent nearly 30 years of his life in service to the U.S. Navy.

It’s on the back of his marker that you can see his Navy ties. I don’t know the name of this ship. But by going on, I found out he did serve on the U.S.S. Chandeleur during World War II, a seaplane tender.

The U.S.S. Chandeleur was a seaplane tender during World War II in the Pacific Theater.

The back of Raymond Kelso’s marker has a ship etched on the back of it. I don’t know the name of it.

The marker for Patty Jo “Pat” Williamsen caught my eye as we were leaving because of the unique picture on her marker. I did not get a very good picture of it, but you can see she is sitting with two turkeys she bagged while hunting. Her obituary shared that fishing, hunting and kayaking were her hobbies.

A wife and mother of three, Pat enjoyed fishing, hunting and kayaking.

Kronborg was not on my original itinerary so we had to make some extra time to get there and return to our original route. But the effort to visit was well worth it. This small Danish enclave has a rich history that is far from over, as its church and cemetery clearly show.

I have seen this particular style of sundial in many cemeteries. But it never fails to make me smile.

Unique Finds: Exploring Nebraska’s Grand Island City Cemetery, Part II

Last week, I shared some of Grand Island’s history and reviewed some unique markers/features at Grand Island City Cemetery. Today, I’m starting with a stunning story. One unlike any I’ve ever read concerning a family I researched. There’s only one that comes close.

I photographed the grave of Heinrich “Henry” Egge as an example of the many German markers at Grand Island, a town founded by German immigrants. His marker indicates he was “geb” (short for “geborener” meaning born) in 1830 and “gest” (short for “gestorben” meaning died) in 1879. He was only 49 when he died.

This monument marks the grave of Heinrich “Henry” Egge, a German immigrant and Grand Island pioneer.

A native of Holstein, Germany, Henry Egge was among its earliest settlers. He wrote a diary about his experience of leaving Hamburg, Germany for New York City with his wife, Augusta, out to Iowa, then his journey to Grand Island with one of the groups that visited. Peter Stuhr, another Grand Island pioneer, was a close friend. Henry became a prosperous farmer and was active in town life.

A portrait of Heinrich “Henry” Egge. His diary of his journey from Germany to America then Grand Island is a valuable piece of American history. Photo source: Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer

At some point in the 1890s, the Egge family’s financial situation took a blow. Funds tied up in a bank that had recently failed sent Henry’s widow and children into a tailspin.  Eldest Egge daughter, Adele, who was 25, was most deeply affected.

On the morning of Dec. 28, 1893, Adele rose and made breakfast, baking cakes. Younger sister Margaret joined her sister, who was eating the cakes she’d made. After taking a few bites, Margaret commented about their bitter taste. Adele smiled and revealed she’d put strychnine in the cake batter and (as a news article noted) that “it was better thus for all of them.”

Horrified, Margaret ran for a doctor who quickly dosed her with an emetic to induce vomiting. But by the time he arrived at the Egge house, Adele was taking her last breaths when she managed to tell him “she was glad she and her sister were out of misery but was sorry her mother and brother had not partaken of the deadly food.”

This headline of this article about Adele Egge’s suicide and attempted murder of her family ran in the St. Paul Daily Globe. Several other newspapers printed similar stories.

Fortunately, Augusta and her son, Otto, didn’t eat the cakes and Margaret survived her ordeal. But it devastated the family. Adele is buried somewhere in Grand Island City Cemetery without a marker. I suspect she is next to her father, Henry.

Was the Egge family’s financial situation so dire that Adele thought suicide was the only solution? Most of the articles I found were the same but one written for the Lincoln Daily News hinted that Adele had become “mentally deranged” as a result and caused her to commit the unthinkable act.

Augusta and Margaret moved to Lincoln by 1900. But by the 1920s, Augusta and all of her children (Margaret, Herman and Otto) had moved west to Orange County, Calif. The family (including wives and children) are buried in Fairhaven Memorial Park in Santa Ana, Calif.

German graves (not just at Grand Island City Cemetery) are often marked with the stones “Mutter” and “Vater” for “Mother” and “Father.”

“Mutter” for Mother

“Vater” for Father

Two metal markers got my attention, one for the Peterson family and the other for a Fanny Bouquett.

P.O. and Marie Peterson share this unique metal grave marker.

I found little about either family (they seem connected by marriage) so I don’t know who made the markers. Perhaps someone in the families was an iron worker. They look to be in fairly good shape considering P.O. Peterson died in 1898, Marie died in 1920 and Fanny Bouquett in 1910.

The marker for Fanny Bouquett’s grave

Another marker I admired was for John and Wiebke Neubert. I’ve seen a number of things carved on markers, from angels to crosses to pointing fingers. And there’s a Bible on top of this one, a common motif. But this is the first one I’ve seen with a water wheel and a mill.

This mill scene is unusual for a monument.

John and Wiebke Neubert were also German immigrants from Holstein, becoming American citizens in 1872. Did they have a mill in Grand Island? Or perhaps in Holstein? Perhaps one of their children commissioned it. Either way, it’s beautifully carved.

A closer view of the Neubert monument.

The monument for Minerva Merrick has the same base and similar script as the Neubert monument , so the same carver probably did this one as well. The motif of the woman clinging to a cross is not unusual but I think whomever did this particular marker executed it with better skill than many I have seen.

The image of a woman clinging to a cross is often associated with the classic hymn, “Rock of Ages.” A person or soul who is lost in a sea of sin, whose only hope is to cling to Christ’s cross.

There were a few oddly shaped ones as well that I don’t often see, especially the one that looks like an egg.

The Houck monument features a pyramid top. That’s Christi in the background.

The Baker monument looks almost prehistoric to me for some reason.

The last items I’m going to talk about aren’t monuments or markers at all. These are urns/planters and you can find them in a lot of older cemeteries. Sometimes they are in poor condition, but others stand the test of time pretty well. I could devote an entire blog post to this sub-genre of cemetery architecture by itself.

On the northern half of Grand Island City Cemetery, I found two green urns with some cool carvings on the sides.

I don’t know what material this urn is made out of or the paint used.

These urns are a total mystery to me. Age, material, symbolism…all of them are a blank. What does the image of a bearded man with wings and a sunburst mean? Is it God? Your guess is as good as mine. But I like them very much.

What a face! Is it a Greek god? Or God? I wish I knew.

Across the road on the southern half of the cemetery, I found this cast iron planter. I’ve seen a few of these before but had not seen markings on them. This one, while quite rusted, has the maker’s mark on it: C.E. Walbridge, Buffalo, N.Y.

This is a Walbridge & Co. cast iron garden planter, made in the late 1800s.

The cast iron planter is signed here.

As it turns out, Walbridge & Co. was who you turned to for garden planters and urns in the second half of the 1800s. Charles E. Walbridge, son of a prominent Buffalo, N.Y. businessman, was a Civil War hero who served in the the 100th Regiment New York Volunteers, Co. H. By the war’s end, he was a Lieutenant Colonel. Walbridge returned to working for his former employer at a hardware store in Buffalo before opening one of his own in 1869. His brother, Harry, joined him in the business later.

An 1895 receipt from Walbridge & Co. Wholesale Hardware in Buffalo, N.Y. The building still stands today.

By 1884, Walbridge & Co. was doing well, selling a wide variety of items. I found a picture of a kitchen scale they sold. But what pops up today are garden urns and planters of a wide variety of style and size. They often appear on auction sites or gardening antique specialty stores. I found a lot of pictures of reconditioned and original urns/planters.

These two Walbridge urns are being sold by Aileen Minor Garden Antiques and Decorative Arts (Centreville, Md.). You can call them to get the price. Photo source: Aileen Minor website.

The cost of such items today is hard to put a figure on. But I found a pair of planters similar to the one at Grand Island City Cemetery (minus the tall stands and in better condition) on a website for $1,495. I found a much more ornate one that sold for $3,000. Someone with more gardening wisdom than myself would have a better idea on today’s pricing. But in the right condition, I imagine they can fetch quite a high price.

I left Grand Island City Cemetery feeling very pleased, as I often do after visiting a cemetery that features styles and items (such as the pergolas) that I’ve not seen before. Such unique finds always make me eager for my next cemetery hopping adventure.

Interior of the Brown family mausoleum.


Unique Finds: Exploring Nebraska’s Grand Island City Cemetery, Part I

With a population of around 50,000, Grand Island is the fourth largest city in Nebraska. Located about 90 miles west of Lincoln, it’s home to the Nebraska State Fair.

Grand Island got its name from the French La Grande Ile, referring to a large island in the Platte River. Inhabited by the Pawnee, fur traders (many of them French) probably discovered the island in the late 1700s. Travelers heading west noted it in their journals. Hall County’s first settlers came in 1857 when three Iowa-based businessmen saw the economic potential of a town near Grand Island, speculating that the Union Pacific Railroad would soon follow. And they were right.

While that initial venture went bankrupt, the 37 German settlers hired to start Grand Island (as a city) stayed. Most of them came from the area of the German-Danish border, Schleswig-Holstein. It explains why some of the grave markers we saw were inscribed in German.

Grand Island’s business district during the 1890s. You can see the Michelson Building and its distinctive clocktower in the background. It was built around that time and still stands today (minus the clocktower). Photo source: Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer.

Oddly enough, La Grande Ile ceased to exist not long after Grand Island was incorporated in 1872. It happened when the north channel of the Platte River was dammed to prevent the yearly flooding of crops. So if you’re visiting Grand Island with the hope of seeing a real island, you’re going to be disappointed.

Grand Island’s downtown area was pretty busy when we were there. If you’re looking for some tasty pizza, give the Wave Pizza Company a shot.

Despite the fact it’s landlocked, Grand Island does have a resident shark at the Wave Pizza Co.

Grand Island is home to the Stuhr Museum of the Prairie Pioneer. Christi and I spent a number of hours visiting. It even has a replica 1890 railroad village you can walk around. It includes the home of actor Henry Fonda, who spent the first six months of his life (1905) in Grand Island. Fonda himself paid for the house to be moved to the grounds of the Stuhr Museum so it would always be taken care of properly.

Henry Fonda only lived in this home for six months before his family moved to Omaha.

Grand Island City Cemetery was established in the 1860s with George Thummel and William Platt as owners of about 20 acres. In May 1897, the Grand Island City Council approved a “New Cemetery” north of Stolley Park Road. It was then that the city took control of the Thummel-Platt Cemetery.

Record keeping prior to 1897 was poor, showing only the purchaser of the lot, and no burial information. The oldest marker found is for Sarah Shoemaker, who died on July 6, 1863.

Covering 90 acres, the current cemetery is split by busy Stolley Park Road. The northern half is the older part and was well planned.

I noticed at least two pergolas built on family plots, something I haven’t seen in a cemetery before. They provide a shady place to sit and visit. I wonder if it’s a local tradition of some sort.

A pergola offers shade to the Mayer family plot. Arthur Cleveland Mayer was a prominent attorney in Grand Island.

The pergola for the Ross plot is covered in vines, unlike the Mayer one.

In my earlier post about Aurora Cemetery, I talked about the Blizard family monument’s unusual style. I’d seen a few at Atlanta’s Westview Cemetery as well. At Grand Island, there are two monuments that while not as tall or dramatic as the Blizard monument, share this motif.

The first one is for the Dahlstrom family. A native of Sweden, Charles August Dahlstrom came to America as a young man in the 1870s, spending a few years in Boston then Omaha. But he found true success in Grand Island as a farmer. He died in 1910.

The Dahlstrom monument makes you think it was unfinished but that’s not the case.

An identical monument marks the Dudey family plot. A native of New York, Alonzo Dudey spent several years farming in Kansas until his first wife, Janet, died. He moved to Grand Island not much later and married again, to Irene Elizabeth “Lizzie” Hoes. Alonzo died in 1937.

The Dahlstrom and Dudey monuments are pretty much the same.

Because I couldn’t remember what this motif meant, I consulted Tui Snyder’s blog as she is a great resource for all things cemetery. According to her, half-carved stones signify that while we may do many great things while on Earth, there’s more to learn and do in the afterlife. So we shouldn’t pat ourselves on the back about how much we did when we were alive. O the soul level we have a lot more “polishing” of our rough edges to do.

There’s a 27-year gap between the deaths of Charles Dahlstrom and Alonzo Dudey. But I don’t know when either monument was purchased and placed. Regardless, both families clearly liked the style and chose it for their families.

I mentioned Lizzie Hoes Dudey earlier, and near the Dudey plot is the Hoes family vault. I admit it, I giggled at the name! But the vault itself is worth pointing out because of its tile work. The intricate nature of the green and white tiles must have been placed by hand.

The intricate tiled design of the Hoes family vault is unique.

You can get a better look at the tiles in this picture.

While some of the tiled sections are being encroached upon by weeds and there’s a large crack, I think it’s held up amazingly well. Sadly, the inscription on the top is almost impossible to read because it’s so faded.

The vault was made for Irene’s Uncle Albert Hoes and his wife, Margaret. Lizzie’s father, John Hamilton Hoes, must have been very close with his brother Albert. Census records indicate that younger brother Albert headed to California during the 1880s gold rush. John, his wife Melvina, and their children joined him there. Albert married Margaret McBride in California during this time.

The brothers’ fortunes must not have improved much because by 1883, both were in Grand Island, Neb. While John and Melvina had 12 children (including Lizzie), Albert and Margaret adopted at least one daughter (Mary) and possibly a son. The brothers became farmers and did quite well.

Irene Hoes Dudey’s father, James H. Hoes, and her mother, Melvina. James followed his younger brother, Albert, to California then Nebraska. Photo source: Compendium of History, Reminiscence and Biography of Western Nebraska

Albert died in 1926 from injuries he received in a fall off of a ladder. He is the only one buried in the Hoes vault because Margaret moved to California. The 1930 Census lists her as living in a lumber camp and working as a nurse. She died in 1942. Although her name and birthdate were inscribed on the Hoes vault, her death date is empty. Margaret is buried in Placerville Cemetery in Eldorado, Calif.

I  don’t know why the date 1914 is on this vault since Albert didn’t die until 1926. My guess is that he purchased the plot at that time and ordered the vault to be built then.

Our final unique find is the Clinger family vault. It got my attention because there’s none like it in the cemetery. I can’t tell what material it’s made out of, but I’m thinking perhaps concrete or plaster. But it does not look like stone to me.

The Clinger family plot’s monument is rather unusual because it doesn’t seem to be made of stone.

Elmer and Edith Clinger are the only two people buried in the vault. I couldn’t find much information about them. Elmer (a machinist) served on the Grand Island City Council in 1907 and 1908. The Clingers had one daughter, Helen, who married and is buried at Grand Island City Cemetery as well. Elmer died in 1951.

After Edith died in 1932, Elmer married Amanda Koehler. She was 39 years his junior. She died in 1970. Amanda is buried at Grand Island City Cemetery with her second husband, Richard Schmidt.

The marble plates on the floor of the monument are marble, with metal plates inscribed with the names. The middle plate tells us it was built in 1920, 12 years before Edith died. Like Albert, Elmer was thinking ahead.

Next week, we’ll explore Grand Island City Cemetery a bit more and I’ll share some more of my unique finds.