Stopping by Gainesville, Ga.’s Alta Vista Cemetery: The Exile of Confederate General James Longstreet, Part I

Lately, there’s been a lot of debate about how we should treat Confederate history. I live in Georgia so it hits pretty close to home.

I’m not going to discuss Charlottesville or statues or protests. Many others have done so. I write about cemeteries and the people buried in them.

However, today I’m sharing the story of the most famous man buried in Gainesville, Ga.’s Alta Vista Cemetery: the controversial and often forgotten Confederate General James Longstreet. How did a man once greatly revered by his peers for his military shrewdness come to live in a sort of exile in a little known Georgia town?

Visiting Alta Vista was not planned. While our son was at Camp Grandma/Grandpa in Knoxville back in July, my husband and I decided to enjoy a quick getaway to the Beechwood Inn in Clayton, Ga. Our anniversary was coming up (Aug. 16) so why not celebrate it a little early?

On the way home, Chris generously offered to stop at any cemetery I wanted to visit. Since we weren’t far from Gainesville, I knew Alta Vista was where I wanted to go.

Originally named Mule Camp Springs, Gainesville got it current name in 1821 from General Edmund P. Gaines. He was a hero of the War of 1812, in addition to a noted military surveyor and road builder.

A postcard of Gainesville’s public square, year unknown.

A nearby gold rush in the 1830s brought more settlers and the beginning of a business community. In 1849, Gainesville became established as a resort center, with people attracted to the springs. Unfortunately in 1851, much of the small city was destroyed by fire.

After the Civil War, the Georgia Southern Railroad began stopping in Gainesville, stimulating business and population growth. From 1870 to 1900, the population increased from 1,000 to over 5,000. Newly built textile mills increased revenues at the turn of the century. A tornado in 1936 nearly wiped out the town again, a topic I’ll discuss in more detail in Part II next week.

Life changed in Gainesville after World War II when businessman Jesse Jewell started the poultry industry in north Georgia. Chickens have since become the state’s largest agricultural crop. This $1 billion-a-year industry has given Gainesville the title “Poultry Capital of the World”. They even have a statue of a chicken atop a 25-foot high marble obelisk in the downtown business district.

Few cities have a chicken statue gracing its business district.

The words Alta Vista may send some of you flashing back to the 1990s when the Internet search engine Alta Vista was all the rage. The words Alta Vista are actually a Spanish/Portuguese expression meaning “a view from above.” That’s probably what the founders had in mind when they named the cemetery that.

Established in 1872, Alta Vista currently makes up about 75 developed acres. It consists of the original cemetery, a private cemetery (formerly known as Woodlawn Cemetery) and at least one family cemetery. Thanks to a recent expansion, the cemetery is still active.

Alta Vista is fairly flat without many trees.

While Alta Vista is the burial place for a number of notable people, the most prominent is Confederate General James Longstreet. You’ve probably never heard of him but ask any Civil War historian and they’ll have plenty to say.

Longstreet’s initial tie to Gainesville was that his family owned a plantation there. Born in South Carolina, Longstreet was one of the most prominent Confederate generals of the Civil War. General Robert E. Lee, under whom he served as a corp commander, called Longstreet his “Old War Horse”.

Confederate General James Longstreet’s marker is situated among his family beneath the American flag.

After graduating from West Point, Longstreet served in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and was wounded at the Battle of Chapultepec. Afterward, he married his first wife, Louise Garland. During Longstreet’s marriage to Louise, they had 10 children but only five would survive to adulthood. A scarlet fever epidemic in Richmond, Va. would devastate the couple when three of their children died within eight days of each other.

Throughout the 1850s, he served on frontier duty in the Southwest. In June 1861, Longstreet resigned his U.S. Army commission and joined the Confederate Army. He served with Lee with the Army of Northern Virginia in the Eastern Theater but also with Gen. Braxton Bragg in the Amy of the Tennessee.

Military portrait of Confederate General James Longstreet. Ulysses S. Grant, his classmate at West Point, married one of Longstreet’s cousins.

Longstreet’s talents made significant contributions to the Confederate victories at Second Bull Run (Second Manassas), Fredericksburg and Chickamauga. His most controversial service was at the Battle of Gettysburg, where he openly disagreed with Lee on the tactics employed and reluctantly supervised the disastrous infantry assault known as Pickett’s Charge. His criticism of Lee would be only one of many reasons he drew the ire of his comrades after the Civil War.

Following the Confederacy’s defeat, Longstreet moved to New Orleans where he worked as a cotton broker. He also joined the Republican Party, a move that provoked many to call him a traitor or “scalawag”. Longstreet also endorsed former Union general-in-chief Ulysses S. Grant for President, a classmate of Longstreet at West Point that married one of Longstreet’s cousins.

In September 1874, Longstreet commanded the largely black Louisiana state police that went up against the Crescent City White League during a riot later called the Battle of Liberty Place. He was shot and briefly held prisoner during the violence. The Crescent City White League was a white supremacist organization attempting to overthrow the government of Louisiana. Federal troops eventually restored order.

The Battle of Liberty Place in 1874 was a clash between the racially integrated city police/militia and the segregationist Crescent City White League on Canal Street in New Orleans, La.

Longstreet’s role in the riot, along with his continued wish to move forward into reuniting the country, only further branded him an enemy in the eyes of his former Confederate supporters.

Fearing for his family’s safety, Longstreet and Louise moved to Gainesville to live out the rest of their days in a sort of exile. The Longstreets lived as respected citizens of Gainesville, and he continued to deflect accusations from Confederate Army general, lawyer and politician Jubal Early, and other former Confederates, intent on casting the blame for the loss at Gettysburg on Longstreet.

Longstreet was appointed deputy collector of internal revenue in Georgia in 1878 and later he was appointed postmaster. In 1880, Longstreet was nominated ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (Turkey) by President Rutherford B. Hayes, a position he held until June 1881. After that, he was appointed U.S. marshal for Georgia until 1884.

The return of a Democratic administration ended Longstreet’s political career and he went into semi-retirement on a 65-acre farm near Gainesville, where he raised turkeys and planted orchards and vineyards on terraced ground that neighbors referred to jokingly as “Gettysburg.” His home in Gainesville, called Parkhill, burned to the ground in 1889. Louise Longstreet died that same year.

At the time of their marriage, James Longstreet was 76 and Helen Dortch was 34.

At the age of 76 in 1897, Longstreet married Helen Dortch, who has quite a history of her own worth reading. Only 34 when she married Longstreet, Helen lived until 1962. Together, they managed the Piedmont Hotel. On January 2, 1904, Longstreet died and was buried at Alta Vista. Louise is buried beside him. Helen is interred in the Westview Cemetery Abbey Mausoleum in Atlanta.

James Longstreet’s role in the Civil War and his later affiliation with the Republican Party is still debated to this day.

As far as I know, there are only two statues of James Longstreet in existence. One stands on the site of his former Gainesville home, Park Hill and was installed in the 1990s. The other one, installed in 1998, is at Gettysburg National Military Park and is an equestrian statue by sculptor Gary Casteel. He is shown riding his favorite horse, Hero, at ground level in a grove of trees in Pitzer Woods.

This statue of James Longstreet is located at the site of his home, Park Hill, which burned to the ground in 1889. Photo source:

Longstreet is remembered in Gainesville through a few places that bear his name, including Longstreet Bridge and a portion of U.S. Route 129 that crosses the Chattahoochee River (later dammed to form Lake Lanier). Located in the restored Piedmont Hotel, the Longstreet Society is an organization and museum in Gainesville dedicated to the celebration and study of his life and career.

Next week, I’ll spend time sharing the stories of other folks buried at Alta Vista. From a circus performer to an astronaut to a poultry pioneer, there’s plenty more to discover about this special place.

The marker for Crippled Jim Smith matches his humble life as a chair mender.




Getaway to Callaway: Visiting Pine Mountain, Ga.’s Chipley Cemetery

As many of my fellow taphophiles (cemetery enthusiasts) can attest, road trips mean stopping by at least one cemetery. If we have time (and an understanding partner), we try to sneak in more.

Last October, my husband invited me to join him as he attended a retreat of his alma mater Oglethorpe University’s board of trustees. The retreat was held at the Lodge and Spa at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., about 75 miles southwest of Atlanta.

The Callaway Gardens/Warm Springs area holds special memories for me. My family moved to Georgia in 1973. When family from Ohio would come to visit us, we inevitably took them to Callaway Gardens or the Little White House at nearby Roosevelt State Park. I have many pictures of picnics with family, visits to the Ida Cason Callaway Memorial Chapel. I had a chance to revisit it on this trip!

I can remember visiting this chapel as a child with visiting family members, many of whom have since passed away.

Several retreat attendees talked about getting a massage at the spa but I knew I’d enjoy a cemetery hop more (as would my wallet). While my husband was in a meeting, I headed to Chipley Cemetery for an hour or so.

The town of Chipley was incorporated in 1882 following the extension of the Columbus and Rome Railroad a mile north of the village of Hood. Hood was renamed Chipley after Col. William Dudley Chipley, a partner in promotion of the railroad. Col. Chipley is buried in Linwood Cemetery in Columbus, Ga. The name was changed again in 1958 to Pine Mountain when Callaway Gardens opened.

A Confederate veteran wounded at Shiloh and Chickamauga before being taken prisoner at the Battle of Peachtree Creek near Atlanta, Col. W.D. Chipley spent his later years developing and expanding railroads.

Many locals still call the cemetery by its old name, Chipley Cemetery, but these days it is also referred to as Pine Mountain Cemetery. According to Find a Grave, Chipley Cemetery has around 1,300 burials. I suspect there are a number of unmarked graves there as well. It’s not far from Main Street, tucked away off the beaten path.

Below is a picture of the Leslie family plot, with only three marked graves. There may be more but unmarked.

The Leslie family plot only has three marked graves in it. Erasmus Leslie was a farmer, leaving his wife, Josephine, a widow in 1909.

The Leslie plot interested me more for the iron fence around it than the actual people buried there, I admit. While not in the best condition, it excited me because it was made by the Cincinnati-based Stewart Iron Works. I’ve featured this company in this blog before. They were known throughout the country for their fine work.

Not far from the Leslie plot is the Dunlap family plot, which also has a Stewart Iron Works fence around it.

Another iron fence made b the Stewart Iron Works of Cincinnati, Ohio. They are still in operation today.

The oldest son of Joseph T. Dunlap and Rebecca Hamilton Dunlap, Walter Fain Dunlap was a farmer in Meriwether County. He married Rosamond Dillard in 1904.

Walter Fain Dunlap died at the age of 80.

Sadly, many of their children would die in infancy. Four Dunlap children died between 1906 and 1913. Two of their children, Mary and Fay, would live past infancy. Fay married and move to Ohio, dying in 1997. I could not trace Mary past her teen years.

Walter and Rosamond Dunlap would lose at least four children in infancy.

I’m always intrigued by what people did for a living. Walter pursued farming like his father until the 1930s. Since the Great Depression made farming a very difficult existence, many turned to other careers and Walter was one of them. He is listed in both the 1930 and 1940 U.S. Census records as a traveling art salesman.

This puzzled me at first until I saw that in 1940 he was a calendar salesman for the Gerlach Barklow Company of Joliet, Ill. When the company started in 1907, there was no way to mass produce color prints so each had to hand-tinted by employees. Much of the artwork on the calendars was produced by local artists, many of whom were women. Gerlach Barklow calendars were often purchased by businesses to be given to their important customers as gifts. The company closed in 1971.

Walter Dunlap might have sold this calendar to customers in 1931. I found it for sale on a web site for $2,250.


Nearby was a marker for Nancy Eliza Houston, who died at the age of 19. I don’t know what the cause was. She was the daughter of James O’Neal Houston and Nancy Jane Kimbrough  Houston.

Despite the fact she lived a short life, she made an impact on those around her. Her Find a Grave online memorial has a note from a woman named Judy Jackson who wrote: “I went to school with Nan and knew her since we were small. She was as beautiful on the inside as she was on the outside.”

More beauty than this Earth could hold…

John Willis Crawford saw a great deal in his life as a blacksmith in Chipley. Born in 1847, he married Mary Elizabeth “Betty” Barnhart (only 15 at the time) in 1870 and together they had at least seven children. He served in the Confederate Army in Georgia’s Third Cavalry Regiment.

John died in 1930 at the age of 83 and is buried beside some of his children. His marker was made by hand. There is no marker at Chipley for his wife, Betty, who died in 1933. She may be in an unmarked grave or buried elsewhere.

The Crawford family may have not had enough funds to purchase a more elaborate marker for their father.

The grave of dentist Dr. Thomas Penhallegon intrigued me because it was by itself next to the back fence, not close to the other graves. He didn’t spend much time in Chipley at all but his life had more twists and turns than a soap opera.

Born in Calumet, Mich., Thomas he got his dental degree from the Chicago College of Dental Surgery in 1902. He married Rose Wood in 1905 in Traverse City, Mich.

Dentist Thomas Penhallegon’s life was more complicated than his grave marker would indicate.

Rose and Thomas moved to Oregon and in 1912, he took his board exams to become a dentist in Salem, Ore. In 1914, he and a fellow dentist sued their employer, Edgar Parker, as the result of alleged injuries sustained from the use of “hydrocane,” a dental anesthetic. Both claimed they had to quit working because of their injuries. This may be why city directories note that Thomas turned to real estate as vice president of the Warrenton-Astoria Townsite Co. in Portland, Ore.

By World War I, Thomas had left Oregon for Cartersville, Ga. working as a superintendent at the Republic Iron & Steel Co. In 1919, Rose and Thomas officially divorced and in 1920, he married a Frenchwoman named Marie “May” Helm. They lived in Atlanta and he opened One Price Dental.

Rose is listed in the 1920 Census in Yakima, Wash. as a widow but living with a “parnter” named David Dodge. I have never seen this term used in census records so early. Business directories list her as “secretary treasurer” of the Warrenton-Astoria Townsite Co.

Thomas Penhallegon gave up dentistry for real estate for a while and it may have ended his marriage.

A 1914 newspaper ad (shown above) lists David Dodge as manager of their Portland office, and the 1914 business diretory lists him as married to a woman named Leona. I can only guess that Rose left Thomas for David Dodge, who left his wife for Rose. By 1930, Rose had married David Dodge and they were living in Los Angeles, Calif. She died in 1958.

In the late 1920s, Thomas and May moved to Birmingham, Ala. to help one of Thomas’ relatives who owned a foundry and cement coloring company. They remained there until the mid 1930s when they returned to Atlanta. They moved to Chipley at some point after 1935 and Thomas worked as a dentist there until his death in 1940. If May is buried with him, she has no marker.

I photographed the markers for two brothers, Willis and James Garner. I noticed that they had died within days of each other in 1895.

Willis Robin Garner died only a few days before his younger brother, James.

The parents of Robin and James were John Sledge Gardner and Althea Marion Collins Garner. They lived in a little town called Rough Edge in nearby Troup County. The couple had several children, with Robin and James being the second and third.

James Garner was the first born son of John and Althea Garner.

Althea died on January 2, 1896, only a 13 days after James. She is buried at Bass Family Cemetery in Troup County. I’m not sure why James and Robin are not buried with her. It looks like they may have all succumbed to the same illness.

It appears that John and the younger children moved to Alabama soon after but I don’t know what happened to them. A family tree on Ancestry says John died in 1905 but he is not on Find a Grave.

I did discover that eldest Garner son, John, ended up moving to Ocilla, Ga. and marrying a woman named Hazel. They named two of their sons after John’s brothers, Willis and Robin. They must have meant a great deal to John.

If I’d had more time, I would have explored more of Chipley Cemetery but I only saw about 65 percent of it. But I know I’ll be back to visit Callaway and Chipley someday. I think it has more stories I need to uncover.

Stopping by Whittaker Cemetery: Homemade Markers and Special Mementos, Part II

Last week, I shared a little of Monterey’s history and showed some of Whittaker Cemetery’s fascinating “tent” or “comb” graves. They are definitely different!

One of the reasons I chose Whittaker Cemetery to visit has to do with a historic connection. Does the last name Mudd ring a bell? If you’re a Civil War history buff, it probably went off loud and clear. Dr. Samuel Mudd treated the injured leg of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth after he fled Ford’s Theater.

The extent of Dr. Mudd’s role as a conspirator has never been completely clear. Some think he barely knew him while others feel they were quite close. However, when Booth arrived at Dr. Mudd’s Virginia home with a broken fibula, the doctor didn’t alert authorities right away. His later interviews concerning Booth were also riddled with inconsistencies. His name literally was “mud” in the eyes of many.

Dr. Samuel Mudd’s connection to Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth is not entirely clear.

Dr. Mudd went on trial for his role in the assassination plot in 1865. He was convicted and escaped the death penalty by only one vote, given a sentence of life in prison. This was commuted in 1869 by President Andrew Johnson, after which Dr. Mudd returned home to Maryland. He resumed his medical practice and slowly brought the family farm back to productivity. He died in 1883 at the age of 49.

One of Dr. Mudd’s cousins was actually a resident of Monterey for the last six years of his life. A native of Baltimore, George Whitefield Mudd was only 16 when President Lincoln was assassinated. I’m sure that his cousin’s actions had an impact on his life and reputation. From the 1880 Census until his death, George moved from West Virginia to Missouri to South Carolina to finally Monterey.

According to a web site I found, some of the Mudd family didn’t know where George was buried until they were contacted by someone in Monterey in the 1980s.

George Mudd was a master mechanic for the railroad and Monterey was a repair station for trains belonging to the Tennessee Central. He and his wife, Ida Zoe Walters Mudd, had three sons. They lived a quiet life. He died in 1928 and his wish was to be buried back in Maryland. His sons, however, chose to make his final resting place in Whitaker Cemetery.

Interestingly enough, I learned that when two men from the funeral home went to Whittaker Cemetery to dig a hole for George Mudd’s grave, there was a casket already in that spot! Apparently, they buried George there anyway and the identify of the person George was placed on top of was never learned.

From reading my blog, you know I post a lot of pictures of grand monuments. They are always exciting to see. But there’s also a special place in my heart for the humbler markers made by hand. The ones not carved by a master stonemason but the markers made by someone very close to the deceased.

These homemade concrete markers for Maude and Issac Riddle, studded with colorful stones, are two of my favorites. My great-great-grandmother Louisa Claar’s marker is also a simple concrete marker with her name scratched on it by hand.

Maud Riddle outlived her husband, Issac, by seven years.

Issac’s grave is much like his wife’s, studded with colorful stones.

Here’s another homemade grave marker, etched by hand. It looks like there’s a cross and some wheat sheaves or corn stalks across the top.

Someone hand carved this marker for Logan Waddle. He’s the only Waddle in the entire cemetery.

I share this marker for Tommy Hedgecouch because it’s a modern example of an incredibly old tradition that’s been around for centuries. Graves were often marked in the past with wooden markers or crosses. When you don’t have much money, you use what you have. Unfortunately, such markers are very susceptible to the elements and don’t last very long. Few make it beyond a decade or two.

Tommy Hedgecouch’s wooden marker is a modern example of a very old tradition. It may not last beyond another decade.

There were some small, very plain markers in the back of the cemetery. The grave of  Foster Wallace (1924-1938) is hand carved and plain. The cross on it told me someone still cared.

He only lived 14 years, but Foster Wallace was not forgotten.

Also among the shadows was this homemade marker for Venie Buckner.

Venie Buckner died at the age of 18.

I found a fieldstone with the last name of Bohannon scratched on it, no dates that I could find. There are 34 Bohannons at Whittaker Cemetery. I’m sure they know who it is and still visit often since silk flowers (in great condition) are beside it.

Someone is tending to this Bohannon grave.

If you look closely, you can see someone has written something on it.

“God, I love you all…”

I was intrigued by these three homemade brick monuments, each with a little alcove to place objects. Only a simple stone with the name “Forster’ indicates who they might be.

Beyond their last name, the identity of these three are unknown.

The Good Shepherd is nestled inside this marker.

I’m also intrigued by what people like to leave on graves to show their affection for a loved one. This one below was under a tree and I normally might have walked right on past it. But something nudged me to duck under the branches and have a look.

This marker was sheltered under a low tree. The necklace hanging from the urn on top of it made me smile.

This child’s grave also has a memento draped upon it.

Charles Toney’s grave has a little metal decoration on the lamb’s neck.

This child’s grave had a mother owl and her baby beside it.

A battered owl and its baby watches over this child’s grave.

In front of the grave was this little battered angel.

This colorful red ceramic figurine sits between two white cherubs. They made a sweet trio.

For some reason, I didn’t get a picture of the front of this marker. I believe it was a mother who died fairly young. But it was all the items resting against the back of it that got my attention.

Then there are always angels. I see them at every cemetery I visit. That’s not unusual. But for some reason, the light hit this one just right when I took a picture of it.

An angel watches over the grave of Mary Louise Pettit.

I hope you’ve enjoyed wandering through Whittaker Cemetery with me. It’s a peaceful place amid the mountains of the Cumberland Plateau, a perfect haven amid life’s chaos. If you’re ever in the area, stop by and get a look at the tend graves.


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!