Hawkeye State Adventures: Visiting The Ax Murder House and Villisca Cemetery

For some time, Christi and I had talked about going to visit the Villisca Ax Murder House in Villisca, Iowa. Since we were taking a meandering route back to Omaha and it was on our way, we decided to stop and see it.

In 1994, Darwin and Martha Linn of Corning, Iowa bought the Moore family home and returned it to its original condition (without plumbing and electricity). It opened for tours and now attracts a lot of attention. A number of TV shows like “Ghost Adventures” have filmed episodes there and books have been written about the murders. You can even rent the entire house and stay overnight to see if any ghosts show up, but it will cost you $428. We chose the $10 daytime tour.

Tragedy struck the home of Josiah and Sarah Moore in Villisca, Iowa on the evening of June 9, 1912.

The Moore family consisted of father Josiah “Joe” (43), mother Sara (30), son Herman (11), daughter Katherine (10), son Boyd (7), and son Paul (5).  Joe was born in 1868 and was a well-known businessman in town. A native of Illinois, he’d worked at the Jones Store in Villisca for several years before opening his own competing business. Born in Knox County, Ill. in 1873, Sarah’s family moved to Iowa around 1894. She and Joe married in 1899.

On a Sunday evening, June 9, 1912, the Moore family went to the Presbyterian church to attend the Children’s Day program that Sara had helped organize. With them were sisters Lena (12) and Ina (8) Stillinger. Katherine invited both girls to spend the night at the Moore’s home after the program. When they returned to the Moore home, they all went to bed.

Joe and Sara with son Herman and daughter Katherine when they were toddlers.

The next morning, neighbor Mary Peckham noticed the Moore home was unusually quiet, with no outside chores taking place. After knocking on the front door and finding it locked, she contacted Joe’s brother, Ross. He found a key and entered the house, getting only as far as the spare bedroom on the first floor before immediately stepping back onto the porch. He asked Mrs. Peckham to call the sheriff at once.

In the downstairs bedroom were the bodies of the Stillinger sisters. The Moore family was found in the upstairs bedrooms by city marshal Hank Horton. Everyone in the house was dead, their skulls crushed by an ax as they slept.

Word of the murders spread fast in the small town and over the next hours, the crime scene was hopelessly compromised by gawkers walking through the house. The Villisca National Guard arrived around noon to secure the home. Back then, there was nothing like today’s crime team technicians to meticulously comb the area for clues or take DNA samples. Even the use of fingerprint evidence was in its infancy.

Sarah Moore with her two youngest children, Paul and Boyd.

The facts are these. Eight people were bludgeoned to death, presumably with an ax left at the crime scene (found in the room where the Stillinger girls were). It belonged to Joe Moore. It is believed everyone was asleep at the time of the murders, with time of death shortly after midnight. Curtains were drawn on all of the windows in the house except two, which did not have curtains. Those windows were covered with clothing belonging to the Moores.

Lena and Ina Stillinger spent the night at the Moore family home after the Children’s Day program at church.

All of the victims’ faces were covered with bedclothes after they were killed. A kerosene lamp was found at the foot of the bed of Joe and Sarah and a similar lamp was found at the foot of the bed of the Stillinger girls. At some point, the killer(s) also took a two-pound slab of uncooked bacon from the icebox, wrapped it in a towel, and left it on the floor of the downstairs bedroom close to a short piece of key chain that did not belong to the Moores. A pan of bloody water was discovered on the kitchen table as well as a plate of uneaten food. The doors were all locked.

The Moore house’s attic is where police found two spent cigarettes, suggesting the killers hid there until the occupants had fallen asleep.

The Moore-Stillinger funeral services were held in Villisca’s town square on June 12, 1912, with thousands in attendance. The funeral cortege was 50 carriages long. National Guardsmen blocked the street as a hearse moved toward the firehouse, where the eight victims lay. Their caskets were later carried on wagons to Villisca Cemetery for burial.

A horse-drawn hearse brings the murder victims to the Villisca Cemetery.

Several suspects were questioned and one man, traveling preacher Rev. George Kelly, supposedly confessed to the crimes. Rev. Kelly had attended the Children’s Day program that night and left town the very next day. He was tried twice for the crime. The first trial resulted in a hung jury and the second trial ended in an acquittal.

The most notorious theory was that the murders were retaliation for Joe’s alleged affair with his former employer Frank Jones’s daughter-in-law Dona Jones. Formerly in the Iowa House of Representatives, Jones became a senator in 1913. Telephone operators claimed they’d overheard conversations between Joe and Dona arranging trysts. Joe had also taken the lucrative John Deere franchise with him when he opened his own business in Villisca in 1907.

While never formally charged with any crime, Jones was the subject of a grand jury investigation and a campaign to prove his guilt impacted his political career. Many Villisca residents said they were convinced Jones used his considerable influence to have the case against him silenced.

Many other theories are floating around about who did it and why. But in the end, nobody truly knows. The case has never been solved.

Villisca Cemetery has about 5,400 burials recorded on Find a Grave. I could find next to nothing about the cemetery online but I believe burials may pre-date the 1850s.

In case you’re wondering, I felt only sadness when we were in the house. I sensed nothing spooky or paranormal in nature. It was hard to believe that one day this happy family was going to church and by the next had been wiped out, including two little girls that would normally not have even been in the home.

We headed to Villisca Cemetery after that, which has about 5,400 burials recorded on Find a Grave. It is well tended and on that sunny day, it was peaceful except for the birds. While there is a ton of information online about the Moore-Stillinger murders, I could find few details about the cemetery they are buried in. A very helpful directory/map is located outside the front gates to help visitors locate graves, which we appreciated.

The Moore family has one large surname stone and then a long, low flat one beside it that lists all of their names and dates. Being so short, it was not easy for me to photograph it in a favorable way.

Gravestones of the Moore family, with their names listed in order of age. Visitors often leave coins, toy cars and other little items on the grave. I think the most poignant one has to be Paul’s on the end, who was only five when he was killed.

Paul Moore was the youngest of the family, only five years old.

Not far away is the Stillinger family plot. Lena and Ina share the same stone. It, too, is covered in coins and trinkets.

Lena and Ina share a gravestone.

It was there that I discovered a sad footnote to this story. At the time of the murders, Lena and Ina’s mother, Sarah Stillinger, was seven months pregnant. She gave birth to a stillborn son just a few days after the murders. To add to the family’s tragedy, their home burned to the ground in January 1913. One newspaper account claimed Sarah had died in the fire but that was untrue. She died in 1945. Husband Joseph died in 1946. They are buried beside their children.

Sarah Stillinger, traumatized by the murders of her daughters, gave birth to a stillborn son a few days later.

We lingered a little while at Villisca Cemetery before heading to T.J.’s Cafe on the town square for a late lunch. We were dining among people whose ancestors had quite possibly known the Moores and Stillingers. But for all its notoriety, Villisca is still a small farming community where people are raising their families and simply trying to get by. Just like the rest of us.

I pray that it is never touched by a tragedy like this ever again.

Hawkeye State Adventures: Finding “The Peace That Passes All Understanding” at Malvern Cemetery, Part II

Happy New Year! Hope  you enjoyed your holiday season. It’s been non-stop rain here in Atlanta but the sun just came out today. YAY!

Last time, I shared the story of a tragic train accident that took the lives of three people buried at Malvern Cemetery in Iowa. Today, I’m going to share some more stories about those buried there.

So often we see a gravestone and have little idea of who the person was or what was the cause of their demise. However, thanks to the efforts of Find a Grave volunteers and better access to historic books and documents, we have more opportunities to fill in the blanks now.

One example is Andrew Scott. I photographed his marker partly because it features a handsome example of the Modern Woodmen of America seal. I’ve written about Woodmen/Woodman in its various forms in other posts. Joseph Cullen Root founded MWA in 1883 but eventually was ousted when fellow leaders disagreed with him. He started Woodmen of the World soon after.

Andrew Scott was only 21 when he died from “disease of the throat”.

A local newspaper called the Glenwood Opinion reported:

He was about 21 years of age and loved by all who knew him for his upright character. He went to New Mexico for his health and it was thought he was entirely cured. The immediate cause of death was from disease of the throat. Those who were with him at the time of his taking off pronounced him as having been resigned beyond the lot of most young people, coming to his end with the peace which passes all understanding.

I’m not sure what “disease of the throat” killed poor Andrew but I’m sure his parents were devastated. They are buried close by. When I looked up his father, Samuel, I read another rather tragic story. By 1910, he and Andrew’s mother, Teresa, were living in Lincoln, Neb.

According to the account I read, Samuel was riding on a streetcar in Lincoln when he experienced a sudden fit of paralysis (possibly a stroke). I can’t imagine how frightening that must have been. A few days later, he had what was probably a second stroke and died at home. A Civil War veteran, Samuel was 68 years old when he died.

Samuel Scott was stricken with paralysis on a street car in Lincoln, Neb. a few days before he died.

When I looked at Samuel’s records on Ancestry, a descendant had noted that Samuel had been an invalid since 1875. The 1880 Census lists him as a farmer and the 1900 Census lists him as a dry goods merchant. There is a record of him receiving a Civil War invalid pension starting in 1879. Teresa received a widow’s pension after his death.

The obituary included this note of thanks that at least Samuel had help on that fateful day on the streetcar:

The family wish to extend to the motorman and conductor and also to their neighbor, Mr. L. Bauer, their sincere thanks for the kindness in assisting Mr. Scott after he was stricken while a passenger of the street car.

Teresa died 12 years later in 1922. Her parents, Andrew and Ellen Purcell (spelled Pursell on the monument), are also buried at Malvern Cemetery. Their monument lists nine of the children they had together. The first five were all born in other states before the Purcells settled in Iowa. Most of the ones listed died in infancy.

The monument for Teresa Purcell Scott’s parents lists many of her siblings on the side.

Ellen died in 1892 at the age of 71. Andrew remarried to Mary Dayuff and died in 1908 at the age of 89.

Monuments like the Pursell one are so valuable to descendants tracing their roots. It’s highly possible some of these infant children would never have been known about had it not been for their inclusion on this marker.

There are several Raines (also spelled Rains by some) buried at Malvern Cemetery. I noticed that the grave of John Raines was off by itself and I wondered why. I was not prepared for the tragic story that unfolded.

John Rains was the son of Henry Raines, the man who originally owned what became Malvern Cemetery, burying his youngest daughter Elizabeth their in 1857. John married Elizabeth Williams in Pettis County, Mo. in 1847. By 1853, they had five children, James, Mary, Taylor, Elliot and Elizabeth. On July 3 of that year, a Sunday, John went to church and left Elizabeth at home with their children, including the eldest, James.

According to accounts I read, a slave named Sam owned by the neighboring Henry France family came to the Raines farm and tried to force himself on Elizabeth. She ran but he allegedly beat her to death when she attempted to get an axe from the nearby woodpile. He then allegedly beat the children to silence them before fleeing the scene. One or two of the children died, accounts vary.

John Rains moved to Malvern in 1853 after the murder of his wife in Missouri.

When John got home, he found Elizabeth dead by the woodpile and James looked to be nearly so. But James revived and told his father what he had seen. After Sam was apprehended, he first denied it, blamed his brother, then admitted he had done it but only under the behest of his owner’s son, William France, a known troublemaker.

What happened over the next days was horrifically predictable for the times. You can read the details here but Sam was eventually forced out of his jail cell in Georgetown, Mo. by an angry mob. The mob chained him to a tree and set a fire around it that eventually killed him. Nothing was ever done to William France but the family moved to another part of Missouri shortly after.

John moved with his surviving children to Mills County and was appointed postmaster of Fayette six months before he remarried to Martha Goode in December 1857. They had one son, William, before John died from tuberculosis in 1859 at age 33. Martha and William eventually moved to Enid, Okla. She died in 1914 and is buried at Malvern Cemetery with no marker. Elizabeth is buried in Old Union Cemetery in Georgetown, Mo. in an unmarked (or unphotographed) grave.

I learned that both James and Taylor lived to adulthood and moved to other states. William, John Raine’s child with Martha, also lived to adulthood. He is buried in Memorial Park Cemetery in Enid, Okla.

Finally, I found a marker for David H. Robinson and his wife, Cynthia. A native of Indiana born in 1844, David and his family had moved to Iowa by 1860. He married Cynthia Darnell in May 1863. They had one son in 1864. David and his younger brother, Howard, enlisted in the 36th Iowa Infantry in February 1864, little knowing what fate awaited them.

David Robinson survived 13 months in a Confederate prisoner of war camp in Tyler, Texas.

David and Howard were in Company D of the 36th, which took part in the disastrous Battle of Marks Mill in Arkansas in April 1864. They were among many in the 36th Iowa Infantry taken prisoner and sent to Camp Ford in Tyler, Texas, the largest Confederate-run prison west of the Mississippi River.

During the course of the war, the total number of prisoners who passed through Camp Ford was slightly more than 5,500. Although a good spring provided clean water and the Confederate guards slaughtered cattle to supply the prisoners fresh beef, prisoners had no shelter from the sun or rain except improvised huts or blankets. As the numbers of prisoners rose, the sanitary conditions declined precipitously, leading to many deaths from exposure, chronic diarrhea, and disease.

Originally a Confederate training facility, Camp Ford later became a prison camp for captured Union soldiers.

In spite of those conditions, about 327 prisoners died in captivity, giving the camp a mortality rate of 5.9 percent, one of the lowest of any Civil War prison. Compared to Georgia’s Andersonville, prisoners at Camp Ford at least had a chance at surviving until a prisoner exchange freed them.

The brothers survived their year-long confinement. Accounts indicate the 36th Infantry prisoners were released in May 1865 through a prisoner exchange, returning to their regiment to fight at Jenkin’s Ferry before mustering out in August 1865. The brothers returned to Iowa. Both brothers continued farming and were also ordained to preach.

Both Robinson brothers were ordained to preach.

David and Cynthia had several more children before he died in 1895. Cynthia died in  1919. Brother Harold, who married in 1895 in Nebraska, moved to Spokane, Wash. before he died in Los Angeles, Calif. in 1917. He is buried in Oak Park Cemetery in Claremont, Calif.

It was time to head on for Villisca and its infamous Murder House. You’ll want to come back for that and my visit to the Villisca Cemetery.


Hawkeye State Adventures: “Goodbye, Goodbye But Not Forever” at Malvern Cemetery, Part I

After spending the night in Malvern’s former train depot office, we decided to visit another cemetery before heading east to Villisca. Malvern Cemetery is located just south of town and had a few Find a Grave photo requests, so we headed there.

Originally called Milton, Malvern was founded in 1869. The name was changed to Malvern after it was discovered that another Milton, Iowa existed. Malvern was one of four communities in the area that came to exist after completion of the Burlington and Missouri River Railroad on November 18, 1869.

Bench outside the former train depot office that’s now an Air B n B site.

John D. Paddock and his bride were the first residents of Malvern. Later, Paddock would become one of Malvern Cemetery’s first trustees. Excerpts from his 1917 book “A Brief History of Malvern” were invaluable in writing this post and the next one I am working on now.

Malvern was then and is now largely a farming community with a population of around 1,140. It was going through a bit of a slump by the 1990s but thanks to some grant money and new residents with fresh ideas, Malvern’s experienced a bit of a renaissance. The train depot office we stayed in sits near the Wabash Trace Nature Trail that runs through town and attracts a growing number of cyclists from the region.

Malvern Cemetery’s gates looks to have been put in place sometime in the 1990s.

In the beginning, the cemetery was called Silver Creek Burying Ground and has also had the names Aurora Cemetery and Calvary Cemetery. But Malvern Cemetery is the name that’s stuck the longest and it is what the place is called today.

The first burial was Eliza Raines who died on May 20, 1857. When the 11-year-old died of pneumonia, her father Henry Raines walked over his land and selected the burial site. Several days later, after the death of his wife, Milton Summers asked if he might bury her near Eliza. Henry Raines died in 1879 and was buried there. On August 26, 1879, a corporation was formed in the name of the Malvern Cemetery Association, and officers and trustees were elected.

A pretty cross donated by a local family.

At 30 acres, Malvern Cemetery has about 4,400 burials and is well maintained. During out visit, a kind gentleman working on the property came over to ask if we were looking for a particular grave. He told us he and his family had lived in the area for many years and that the community was active in making sure the cemetery was in good shape. We could see that was obviously true.

Malvern Cemetery features something many well maintained Nebraska and Iowa cemeteries have and that’s an up-to-date directory of exactly who is buried where. For a Find a Grave volunteer like me, that is a Godsend. Christi and I fulfilled some FG photo requests that day because of Malvern Cemetery’s excellent directory.

A well-maintained directory like this one makes a cemetery hopper’s day.

It didn’t take me long to find the tallest monuments in the cemetery. Three distinctive tree-style markers were in the same plot. I’ve rarely seen markers of this variety quite so tall. It was only this week when I started researching them that the tragedy involving two of them came to light.

This trio of “trees” is one of the tallest I’ve seen of this style of monument.

Born in 1824 in West Virginia, Josiah Coe Wearin was the son of Michael and Mary Ann Coe Wearin. He spent his early years in Ohio. In 1847, he married Olive Smith in La Porte, Ind. By 1860, he and Olive had four children and were farming in Indian Creek, Iowa in Mills County (where Malvern is located). Josiah’s siblings and father eventually moved to Iowa as well.

The story of Josiah Wearin’s death is written on his monument.

It is from Paddock’s 1917 book “A Brief History of Malvern” that I found an account of the train accident in St. Charles, Mo. that took the life of Josiah and his son-in-law’s father, Jordan W. Hyde. It is believed that a span of the railroad that crossed the Missouri River collapsed and possibly one of the cars derailed, sending the train crashing into the water.

Paddock confused Jordan’s name with that of Jordan’s son, Richard Warren Hyde. R.W. was soon to be married to Josiah’s daughter, Coloma.

November 8th, at about 8:30 in the evening, occurred the frightful disaster at St. Charles, MO, taking three lives of our own people, bringing great sorrow to our town and the community. Mr. Josiah Wearin, Mr. R.W. Hyde and John Summers, also the life of John Barnet, the brakeman, that brought sorrow to some other homes. Mr. J.M. Strahan and Mr. Fred Davis were also in the caboose car with the others.

Mr. Strahan obeyed quickly the impulse and jumped off from the car into the darkness, miraculously striking astride of the pier timbers to which he clung, while the car in which his companions were, went down in a second of time later into the opened chasm, to the rocks and water 75 feet below. Mr. Davis went down with those who perished, but was wondrously spared his life, with only slight bodily injuries. A span of the bridge gave way under the heavily loaded stock train of 18 cars of cattle which were being shipped to Buffalo NY. John Summers was not killed outright but after hours of suffering, death came to his relief.

Josiah Wearin was only 55 when he died.

The epitaph on Josiah’s monument shares the story of his demise.

Erected by a mourning family of six surviving children and their mother in memory of a kind husband and devoted friend to whom the poor man never appealed in vain. In the prime of his usefulness met an untimely death in the fall of a railroad bridge at St. Charles, Mo. Nov. 8, 1879. Goodbye, goodbye, but not forever.

Jordan Hyde was a widower living in Montana at the time of his death at age 64.

A native of Franklin, Tenn., Jordan Hyde had ventured west in his younger days and was living in Montana according to the 1870 Census. By the time of the accident, he was widowed and the father of two sons.

His epitaph reads:

Erected by the two surviving sons of a family of five children in memory of father, mother and three infant brothers buried near Hannibal, Mo. Our beloved father came to his untimely death in the midst of his usefulness by the fall of a railroad bridge at St. Charles, Mo. on Nov. 8, 1879. Gone home to meet the loved ones gone before.

R.W. married Coloma in February 1880. Josiah’s wife, Olive, was living with her four other adult children by that time. All of them married and had families. Olive died at the age of 79. Her obituary noted her wealth:

Mrs. Wearin was almost 80 years of age and had lived on the old home farm a mile northwest of Henderson for 50 years. She was without doubt the wealthiest woman in Mills County at the time of her death, being worth probably half million dollars. Among other things, in real estate she possessed 1,500 acres of land along the Nishna valley.

Nearly 80 when she died, Olive Wearin’s wealth was estimated at half a million dollars.

John Summers, who was only 22 at the time, survived the wreck but died a few days later. He’d spent all of his short life in Iowa. He is also buried at Malvern Cemetery, but his marker is far more humble than those of Hyde and the Wearins.

John Summers survived the train wreck but died from his injuries a few days later. (Photo Source: Find a Grave.com by kweaver)

Survivor James Strahan was about 50 at the time of the accident. His wife, Frances, died after a long illness in 1885. James died in 1907 at the age of 70. He is buried at Malvern Cemetery. According to Paddock:

Today, August 14, 1907, while at his work, James Miller Strahan is stricken with death. “God steps in and says thy work is finished.” The eulogy of his life has been ably spoken. We cannot say more.  A true and valued friend and citizen has been taken from us.

I did notice that the name of the carvers, which appear to be Connor and Gunella, are on both Josiah and Jordan’s monuments. I could find nothing about them.

I think there must be Wearins still living in the area that visit these graves. This handsome canine is nestled on Josiah’s “Father” marker next to his “tree”.

A dog stands watch over the Wearin monuments.

Since I’ve got John Paddock’s book to guide me, I’ll be back next time to share some more stories from Malvern Cemetery.

“Goodbye, Goodbye, But not forever…”

Hawkeye State Adventures: Visiting Avoca’s Graceland Cemetery

Christi and I headed west on I-80 intending to spend the night in Malvern at an Air B and B that used to be a small train depot. I looked on the Find a Grave app and noticed there was a cemetery in Avoca just off the interstate on our way there. So we pulled off to take a look.

Graceland Cemetery (also known as Avoca Cemetery) is becomingly situated on a hillside that overlooks  terraced farmland.

Graceland Cemetery is situated in a pretty spot on a hillside.

According to Find a Grave, Graceland has about 2,500 burials and appears to be well cared for. No footstones piled under a tree! I was unable to find out exactly when Graceland was established. But burials date back to the 1850s.

Avoca was established around 1869 with the construction of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad through the area. Avoca is named after Avoca, Ireland. With a population of around 1,600, it has a quaint Main Street that we saw when we dined at the Classic Cafe later.

What I did find was a lot of information about Graceland’s rather small but rare octagonal-shaped chapel. Iowa only has two such shaped cemetery chapels. Over the years the building has been used to hold funerals, and has acted as a temporary mausoleum, sexton’s office, and storage space.

Graceland Cemetery Chapel was built in 1875.

According to the application for it to be made a National Historic Site (which happened in 1986), “Because of its siting and octagonal form, Graceland Chapel has a picturesque quality, and this aspect is further enhanced by an effective combination of decorative elements drawn from the Italianate, Greek Revival, and Gothic Revival styles.”

Graceland’s chapel was once in danger of being demolished.

So why build an octagonal-shaped chapel rather than a traditional four-sided one? Apparently, there was an “Octagonal craze” that started in the 1850s by a man named Orson Squire Fowler. Already a noted phrenology practitioner (interpreting the shape of the human head) and author of sex manuals, his 1848 book A Home for All, or A New, Cheap, Convenient, and Superior Mode of Building was embraced by many and it went through nine printings. Think of it as a sort of Victorian-era feng shui.

Orson Squire Fowler published books on phrenology, building octagonal houses, and sex.

Fowler lectured in Dubuque, Davenport, Iowa City, and Keokuk in 1856, and his writings were well known in Iowa for years after that. It may have been his belief that “to impress an audience, a speaker requires that they be gathered around him” which inspired the unknown architect of Graceland’s chapel to choose the octagonal style.

According to the application, by the summer of 1984, the chapel had deteriorated to such a poor state that the city was talking about demolishing it. That spurred the creation of the Newton-Avoca Historical Society, a group of locals who successfully raised enough money to restore the chapel.

The chapel was locked up, but by looking in the window we could see panels with historical information on them. So I’m guessing they hold programs at the chapel from time to time.

Two of the first markers I saw was for a mother and child, Rachel Bergen and her infant daughter, Mertle.

Mertle Bergen died only nine days after her mother.

Born in Indiana, Garret Bergen was the son of George and Margaret Garret. He married Rachel Voorhies (or Voorhees) in 1867 in Big Grove, Iowa. According to the 1870 Census, Garret and Rachel were farming next door to his father in Big Grove with their one-year-old son Virgil. In 1872, George moved to Avoca and opened a hotel. Garret and his family moved there at the same time.

In late August 1874, Rachel gave birth to daughter Mertle. Rachel died on Sept. 22, 1874 for unknown reasons and Mertle died only a few days later on Oct. 1. Garret remarried the following year, and moved back to Big Grove with Virgil and his new wife.

Sometimes a little tidbit of news will catch my attention. When I looked up Michael Wetherby’s memorial on Find a Grave (spelled Weatherbee in some places), I learned he was born in 1838 in New York and married Favorette Bennett in Illinois in 1866. He served with the Seventh Michigan Cavalry, Company I, during the Civil War.

A native of New York, Michael Wetherby didn’t spend many years in Avoca.

He and Favorette moved to Avoca sometime after they married. They lived there during the 1870s before moving to Council Bluffs, Iowa where he worked as a successful liveryman. The Wetherbys had several children. When he died in July 1915, he was buried in Graceland Cemetery.

But I was surprised to find this item reported in the October 10, 1896 issue of Avoca’s “Nonpareil” that said “Mike Weatherbee disposed of his famous old stage coach yesterday to Buffalo Bill. The consideration, it was reported, was $120.”

Wait a minute. THE Buffalo Bill? According to the Buffalo Bill Museum in Golden, Colo., Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show stopped in Council Bluffs on October 9, 1896 as part of their tour. So conditions were ripe for such a transaction. I’m certain it wasn’t his famous Deadwood stagecoach since it had been in his show since the 1880s. But he could always use a backup, right?

One of the saddest children’s graves I’ve ever seen was for the sons of Benjamin Franklin and Aura May Smith Hake. On the top are two children, with what appears to be two lambs between them. The heads have since broken off.

The Hake boys died eight days apart in 1879. Their grave marker says “Gone Too Soon”.

A native of Ohio, B.F. Hake was born in 1846 and served in the 11th Wisconsin infantry during the last two years of the Civil War. He married Aura Mae Smith in Lewis, Iowa in 1874 before they settled in Avoca. Aura gave birth first to Harry on Feb. 11, 1875. She then had Earl Hake on Nov. 4, 1877. Harry died at the age of four on April 19, 1879. Earl died just eight days later on April 27, 1979, only 15 months old.

The Hakes moved to Nebraska in the late 1880s and prospered in the cattle business. They would have three more sons that all lived well into adulthood. B.F. and Aura Mae moved to California in their later years to help improve his health. They had just moved to Wyoming where B.F. hoped to live out what years he had left with his sons when he died on May 27, 1913. Aura Mae died in 1934 and is buried beside him.

Finally, Graceland has a nice example of a tree monument for Abram Harris and his second wife, Mary.

Mary Harder was 18 years old when she married widower Abram Harris, who was 52.

A native of Saratoga County, New York, Abram Harris was born in 1824. He married Irish immigrant Johanna Ferris sometime before 1852. The 1860 Census indicates they were living in Ottawa, Ill. with their four children. His profession at that time was butcher.

The family moved to Colorado for a year before moving to Avoca in 1870, where Abram opened a meat market. He was later a successful farmer and cattle owner. At some point, he served two years as Avoca’s mayor and two years as justice of the peace. Abram and Johanna would have five children together, two who died in their teens.

Johanna Harris was 47 when she died in 1874.

Johanna died in February 1874. Abram remarried in December 1875 to Mary Harder, who was 18. Abram was 52. At the time, Abram’s oldest daughter was 20 so the two may have been classmates. Despite the age difference, Abram and Mary had seven children together, with only one dying in infancy.

Abram died in 1892 at the age of 68. Mary died in 1923 at the age of 64.

Next time, we’ll visit Malvern Cemetery.

Another view of Graceland Cemetery.

Hawkeye State Adventures: Exploring Timber Creek Cemetery

After leaving Riverside Cemetery, Christi and I picked up her friend Jacqueline and went to lunch in downtown Marshalltown. When I mentioned what I was doing, Jacqueline asked if she could go along if we planned on going to any other cemeteries. Even if it meant just sitting in the car, since her mobility is limited.

By looking on my Find a Grave app, I saw that Timber Creek Cemetery (TCC) was just south of town so we headed in that direction. You actually cross Timber Creek twice before you get there.

Timber Creek is south of Marshalltown amid farmland.

According to Find a Grave, TCC has around 1,100 burials. The Timber Creek Cemetery Association was organized on May 15, 1868, but from dates I saw, burials were taking place several years before that.

The exact start of Timber Creek Township is disputed. According to “History of Marshall County, Iowa” by N. Sanford (written in 1867), the settlement of Timber Creek was established when “Mr. J.M. Ferguson and Josiah (actually Joseph) Cooper settled on the south side of the grove in 1848.” According to another book written in 1878 “The History of Marshall County”, it was started in 1861. I’ll share more about Joseph Cooper later.

TCC is a well kept cemetery. The grass is mowed and the markers appear to be in good shape.

However, it didn’t take me long to discover one of the reasons the cemetery was so well mowed.

These old footstones were pulled up to make mowing the cemetery easier. At least it looked that way to me.

Surrounding a huge, old tree was a pile of old footstones that had been pulled up. I could see the initials on them. A few were smaller grave markers that were broken or had simply been tossed into the pile. One was for an infant, Perry Campbell, who died in 1867.

To be frank, it made me angry. I don’t know the people that take care of the cemetery so I don’t know the details behind this. But I do know that it’s not unusual for those who maintain older cemeteries to pull up the footstones to make mowing the grass easier.

Perry Campbell’s marker says “Gone But Not Forgotten.” But considering the condition of it, he has been.

Find a Grave showed a 2014 photograph of the same tree with the same footstones around it, so this was not recent. I find it very sad considering the people that buried their loved ones didn’t have any intention for the footstone to end up in a pile under a tree like unwanted rubbish.

Two graves I saw were for the VanHook family. Henry Thomas Van Hook died at the age of 28 in 1876. The stone says he was the husband of E.A. Vanhook, who I believe to be Eliza Ann Hook. A stone for Matilda Hook is beside it and I believe that to be Henry’s mother, who died in 1872.

I located Henry’s will on Ancestry, which contained many bills submitted to his estate. One was for his casket, which cost $25 and came from C.W. Pinkerton, a dealer in “furniture and coffins.” That may seem strange but at the time, the same man who sold you a dining room chair might also make your coffin. Based in nearby Gilman, C.W. Pinkerton was also an undertaker and likely handled Henry’s burial.

I could find little information about Henry Van Hook’s origins.

Henry’s epitaph reads:

? my wife and children all
From you a father Christ doth call
Mourn not for me it is in vain
To call me to your sight again.

Henry’s death left Eliza with three children under the age of 10. According to the 1895 Iowa Census, Eliza was born in Illinois and belonged to a “Friends” church and the 1915 Iowa Census confirmed she was a Quaker. The 1920 U.S. Census shows her living with married daughter Florence Brown (a dressmaker) and her family. Eliza died in 1935 and is buried at Riverside Cemetery, as is her son, John, and daughter, Florence. They both died in 1951.

As I noted earlier, one of Timber Creek’s earliest white settlers was Kentucky native Joseph Cooper. According to his son John’s obituary, Joseph and his wife Martha Ferguson Cooper left their Indiana home for Iowa in 1847, living briefly in Jasper. They settled on Timber Creek in 1848 (the same year Iowa was made a state) along with Martha’s brother Joseph Ferguson and his family. The two Josephs were among the first to purchase land in Marshall County from the U.S. government.

A Kentucky native, Joseph Cooper moved to Indiana in 1829 before taking his family to Iowa in 1847.

Martha gave birth to her and Joseph’s 11th child, Carl, in 1849. She would be the second adult death recorded in the area in 1852, so she was among the first to be buried at TCC. I suspect the shared marker for her and Joseph was not made until after his death in 1877.

Included in John Cooper’s obituary is an account of some Indians living nearby. A settlers’ stockade called Fort Robinson was built (about 90 square feet) on the land of Arthur Robinson. According to one account, it was built after the same settlers allegedly burned down a nearby Indian village and then feared retribution.

About 24 families took refuge there, with their cattle left outside the walls and their crops in the hands of the Indians until the U.S. Army arrived to take the Indians to Missouri. The presumed Fort Robinson site has a historical marker on it, but no archeological evidence has turned up to indicate just exactly where it was.

Joseph and Martha Cooper were among the first families to settle along Timber Creek.

Another early Timber Creek settler buried at TCC was John Fletcher Campbell. A native of Knox County, Tenn., Campbell was born in 1824 and moved near Springfield, Ill. as a child. Obituaries note he was a friend of Abraham Lincoln’s as he grew up. Later, his father moved the family to Jasper, Iowa. Joseph would meet up with Joseph Cooper and Joseph Ferguson around that time. The land he purchased at Timber Creek would eventually become known as Campbell’s Grove.

A bachelor at the time, Campbell and his brother, James, headed for California in 1852 in search of gold. After two years in the mining districts, John returned to Iowa by way of the Isthmus of Panama and around to New York City by boat, then home to Marshall County. During his journey, according to an obituary, he “carried about $2,400 in gold coin sewed up in the inside of his buckskin vest.”

John married Matilda Denney in 1856 and settled into farming life. The couple had several children, five that lived well into adulthood. Second son Alvin Campbell died in 1884 at the age of 21 and has the only white bronze marker that I saw at TCC.

Alvin Campbell was the second son of J.F. and Matilda Campbell.

John was a successful farmer, adding more acreage to his holdings over the years. He died of cystitis (inflammation of the bladder) in 1905 at the age of 81. Matilda died in 1934 at the age of 101. In the photo below to the left of their monument, you can see the marker for their infant son Robert, who was born and died in 1862.

John F. Campbell got the itch to try his luck in the California gold rush but returned to Iowa a few years later.

I also learned that the infant Perry Campbell (see photo further up) was the nephew of J.F Campbell. Perry was the son of John’s brother, George, and wife, Jane Bowen Campbell. Although George and Jane  lived in nearby Jasper, they buried Perry at TCC.

Finally, I’ll share this double marker for the children of the Rev. Isaac Johnson and Elivra Overheiser Johnson. The Johnsons came to Iowa in 1857 from Ohio and Rev. Johnson preached in several small churches in the area of Timber Creek, and the counties surrounding it.

The Johnsons lost two children in 1868.

The year 1868 was a tragic one for the Johnsons. On May 6, a 24-day-old infant died. Daughter Aradilla, not yet three years old, died in November of the same year. The Johnsons would have five children that lived to adulthood, but losing these two little ones must have been hard to take.

After taking Jacqueline home, we headed west out of Marshall County back toward Omaha. But we had a few more Iowa cemeteries to visit before we completed our journey.

Next time, I’ll take you to Graceland Cemetery in Avoca.


Hawkeye State Adventures: Making Magic in Marshalltown, Iowa’s Riverside Cemetery, Part II

We’re back at Riverside Cemetery in Marshalltown, Iowa.

One of the town’s beloved sons was Sergeant Charles Willard Peckham, who created magic in the skies when he flew. The following details and photos came from research done by Riverside’s staff. They told me where his stone was located but because we were in a bit of a rush that day, I didn’t find it. But his story is still worth sharing.

Born on August 4, 1897, Peckham graduated from Marshalltown High School in 1916. After a year at the state university, he enlisted in the American Expeditionary Forces in May 1917 during World War I and went to France later that summer. He joined the 103rd Aero Squadron of the Lafayette Escadrille, part of the WW I French Air Service, which consisted of mostly of volunteer American pilots flying fighter planes.

Sgt. Charles Willard Peckham cut a dashing figure when he was a World War I pilot. (Photo source: Riverside Cemetery Facebook page)

During this time, Peckham was cited for bravery three times and promoted to first class sergeant. At one point, it was feared he was captured but the rumors were fortunately untrue. He sent home to his father a fabric Iron Cross he’d cut from a downed German airplane.

Peckham was the lone pilot in the Lafayette Escadrille to be chosen by his commanding officer for appointment to West Point. But when the war ended, Peckham was done with military life. He came back to America and joined a “flying circus,” touring the country promoting victory loans (bonds issued to help pay for the war).

Peckham joined the Iowa Aero Company of Des Moines, which performed at an event on Friday, August 22, 1919 in Des Moines, with 100 or so people present. He and another pilot gave rides to spectators that day. Later, despite earlier engine problems, the pilot managed to get the plane started and up in the air, and Peckham stepped out onto the wing.

This photo is believed to be from Peckham’s funeral at Riverside Cemetery in 1919. (Photo source: Riverside Cemetery Facebook page)

The plane began to tailspin and Peckham dropped 1,000 feet to the earth, enduring fractures below the knees of both legs and a fracture of the base of his skull. He was moved to the Methodist Hospital, where he died on Sunday, August 26, 1919, with his parents beside him.

Sgt. Charles W. Peckham is buried beside his parents at Riverside. (Photo source: Find a Grave.com)

A local newspaper article reported that two members of the Iowa Aero Company who were also servicemen would fly over the grave and “drop flowers as was done in France when a member of the air service was laid to rest.” The photo above the grave marker photo is believed to be of Peckham’s funeral at Riverside Cemetery, part of a cache of photos from the The Gold Star Museum at Camp Dodge in Des Moines.

I also want to mention James Christopher “Sunny Jim” Dunn and his wife, Edith Dunn. Both were trailblazers of a sort, although for different reasons.

Born in Marshalltown in 1864, Dunn met Henry Anson (whose son “Cap” was a Major League Baseball player in its infancy) when he went to work for the A. E. Shorthill Company, where the elder Anson was also employed. He convinced Anson to lend him money to start his own business, first in the coal industry, then in railroad contracting.

It was Dunn’s partnership in a railroad construction firm that sent his fortunes rising and he eventually became a millionaire. He and his wife, Edith Forney Dunn, lived in a mansion in Chicago. They had no children.

James “Sunny Jim” Dunn owned the Cleveland Indians when they won their first World Series. (Photo source: Library of Congress)

In 1916, Dunn was recruited by American League president Ban Johnson to head up a syndicate to buy the Cleveland Indians baseball team from Charles Somers for $500,000. During his tenure, the team’s ballpark League Park was renamed Dunn Field, although the name reverted back to League Park in 1927. In 1920, the Indians won their first World Series.

When Dunn died of influenza in 1922 at the age of 57, he left his entire estate worth $390,000 to Edith. That included control of the Cleveland Indians, making her one of the first women to own a MLB team.

When Jim Dunn died in 1922, he left his entire estate to his wife, Edith.

That alone might have made Edith a unique woman of her time but there was something else that caught my attention. Edith remarried a man named George Pross. A native of New York, Pross was 24 years Edith’s junior. He worked as a policeman in New York City before moving to California to become a private detective for the Burns Detective Agency. His name pops up in several issues of “True Detective” magazine in the 1920s.

In 1927, ownership of the Indians changed hands when Edith sold the franchise for $1 million to a group headed by Alva Bradley. By 1930, Edith and George were living in a fine home in Pasadena, Calif. before moving to Los Angeles. A year after Edith died in 1946, George remarried. He died in 1967 and is buried in California with his second wife.

Edith remarried to George Pross, who was 24 years her senior, and spent her last years in California.

Jim and Edith (despite her remarriage) are buried beside each other in Riverside. Despite becoming a wealthy man who had moved away, Dunn always considered Marshalltown “my hometown” and wished to be buried there.

I was delighted to see a large white bronze monument representing the Shetler family. It looks like the woman, holding a laurel wreath (which can mean victory, distinction, eternity or immortality) beside an anchor, is unfortunately missing a hand.

The Shetler family monument has a total of seven people listed on it.

A native of Germany, George H. Shetler arrived in America in 1833. He married Ohio native Martha Smith in 1838 in Kentucky. They had several children. In 1857, they moved to Marshalltown where George Sr. farmed. Later, he and his two sons, George Jr. and James, operated a successful harness business. Martha died in 1886 and George Senior died in 1901.

Unfortunately, George H. Shetler, Sr. died without a will. This caused much angst concerning how his estate would be divided up, especially some land tracts. It went as far as the Iowa State Supreme Court before it was all sorted out and by that time (1906), son James had died as well in 1904.

The Shetler monument is one of the largest white bronzes I’ve seen.

You don’t see these with every white bronze monument, but the Shetlers had individual plates featuring the first names of the deceased. George Sr. and wife Martha are “Father” and “Mother.”

This marker is for Waverly Shetler, the son of George Jr. and grandson of George Sr. . He attended pharmacy school at then-State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) in the 1880s and was a practicing pharmacist for a few years. Then in 1895 he graduated from the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colo. Why he switched careers midstream is a mystery. He died in 1901 at the age of 33 in El Paso, Texas.

Records indicated that Waverly Shetler had attended pharmacy school at what is now the University of Iowa and the Colorado School of Mines to become an engineer. He died in El Paso, Texas.

One last footnote about this cemetery. I didn’t learn until after my visit that Riverside Cemetery is supposed to have a “death chair” on the premises. I did not see it while I was there but if you Google it, you can see pictures of it.

I’ve seen stone chairs like it before (some are called “the Devil’s Chair”) and many of them have legends attached to them. The story with this one goes that if you sit on Riverside’s “death chair” at midnight, you will die within the year. So if you’re into that kind of thing, you can keep an eye out for it.

Next time, we’ll visit nearby Timber Creek Cemetery. It’s much smaller than Riverside but still has some stories to share.

Hawkeye State Adventures: Making Magic in Marshalltown, Iowa’s Riverside Cemetery, Part I

After Woodland Cemetery, Christi and I headed northeast for Marshalltown. Our primary goal was to visit a dear friend of her late mother’s who lives there. But I knew that we’d be stopping by a few cemeteries as well.

Henry Anson, whose statue is in front of the Marshall County courthouse, is thought to be the first white settler in what is now called Marshalltown. He donated the land that the courthouse sits on. In April 1851, Anson described Marshalltown as “the prettiest place in Iowa.” Having seen the picturesque downtown, I can say that it is certainly one of them.

Including his time in the National Association, Adrian “Cap” Anson played a record 27 consecutive seasons.

Anson’s son, Adrian Constantine “Cap” Anson, was a favorite son of Marshalltown, having made a name for himself as a Major League Baseball player. Cap spent most of his career with the Chicago Cubs (then known as the “White Stockings” and later the “Colts”), serving as the club’s manager, first baseman and later, minority owner. He led the team to five National League pennants in the 1880s.

While writing this post, I was saddened to learn that on July 19, 2018, an EF-3 tornado roared through Marshalltown. This was about 10 months after my visit. Fortunately, there were no deaths. But a preliminary count of homes showed 89 destroyed; 525 with major damage; 94 with minor damage; and 54 classified as affected. Seven businesses were destroyed and four received major damage.

It will take a long time to rebuild what was lost. But this town of about 26,000 is already on its way back, working hard to make repairs and put things right.

Henry Anson’s statue is behind the flagpole. An EF-3 tornado that roared through town on July 19, 2018 tore off part of the cupola above the clock and damaged the roof.

Before meeting Jacqueline for lunch, we headed to Riverside Cemetery. I didn’t know much about it but there were a few graves I wanted to photograph.

Riverside was the vision of two men, Presbyterian minister Rev. Louis DeLos and Dr. George Glick. After incorporating as the Marshall Cemetery Association in April 1863, the board purchased a little over 13 acres acres from Rueben Webster for the purpose of creating a cemetery. It has expanded since then to its present 95 acres. According to Find a Grave, there are close to 25,000 burials recorded.

The St. Mary’s Cemetery Association purchased land east of what is now Lake Woodmere (in front of the cemetery office) and established a church cemetery, currently maintained by the Marshall Cemetery Association as a Catholic cemetery. The Congregation of the Sons of Israel also has their burial grounds within the perimeter of Riverside. In addition, the Volunteer Firemen of Marshall County, the Elks Lodge, and the Masonic Lodge have separate burial grounds for their members.

Canada geese love Lake Woodmere at Riverside Cemetery.

I don’t always stop in at a cemetery’s office because I don’t like bothering people who have work to do. But the folks at Riverside treated me like a welcome guest when I walked in. They pulled out files on the person I was looking for and suggested visiting the grave of another interesting person I hadn’t even heard of. If you check their Facebook page, they are always adding new stories about people buried at Riverside. I greatly appreciate Riverside’s staff for going the extra mile to share the rich history of their town and helping me in my research.

The most famous person buried at Riverside Cemetery is someone you have likely never heard of — magician Tommy Nelson “King of Koins” Downs. While unknown now, he had quite a following in his time.

T. Nelson Downs had time to perfect coin/card tricks on his job as a telegraph operator. (Photo source: The Art of Magic. The Downs-Edwards Company, 1909)

Downs was born in Marshalltown in 1867 to teachers Thomas and Cordelia Downs, his father dying when he was only six months old. As a boy, he taught himself card and coin tricks. His first wife, Nellie Stone Downs, died in 1895, just a year after giving birth to their son, Raymond. That same year, after working for the telegraph company much of his life, he decided to perform in vaudeville full time. A few years in, he decided to concentrate solely on coin tricks.

So who looked after little Raymond while Downs was on the road? The 1900 Census shows him living in the household of none other than town founder, Henry Anson. Raymond is listed as his grandson but I don’t know if Nellie or Downs was actually related to him. According to a Des Moines Register article, Raymond said he was raised by housekeepers, had a distant relationship with his father, and that he personally had no interest in magic.

T. Nelson Downs had a humble beginning but entertained kings in his career. (Photo source: FineArtAmerica.com)

Downs soon became a sought after performer on the American vaudeville circuit, including Tony Pastor’s New York theater. He performed 26 consecutive weeks at London’s Palace Theater and 40 weeks at the Empire Theater, along with many performances at the Follies Bergere in Paris. King Edward VII, Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm and Sultan Abdul Hamid of Turkey were entertained by Downs as well.

This was one of T. Nelson Downs’ palming coins that he used in his act. The staff at Riverside Cemetery kindly let me photograph it.

Downs’ skill at manipulating coins was just about impossible to imitate. Watching this old home movie of him in later years illustrates that. While performing his tricks, he could palm up to 60 coins at a time. One of his most famous tricks was “The Miser’s Dream”, in which he seemed to pull countless coins out of the thin air. His 1900 book “Modern Coin Manipulation” is still in print today.

A rare photo of T. Nelson Downs (on the far right) with famed magician Harry Houdini to his left. (Photo source: New York Public Library Digital Gallery)

In 1912, Downs decided to retire to Marshalltown with his second wife wife, Harriet Rockey Downs. Downs opened a vaudeville house on Main Street, where he also sold a line of magic equipment. Many visitors, especially other magicians, arrived at his home to share gossip and the latest tricks.

Downs’ book “Modern Coin Manipulation” is still in print today. (Photo source: Biblio.com web site)

Downs was well acquainted with fellow magician Harry Houdini and they shared the stage on occasion. Some articles I read said they had an intense rivalry while others said they were close friends. I tend to think it was a rather benign rivalry amid a warm friendship. Downs’ career took off before Houdini’s and he advised him to head to Europe as he had done to boost his career, and Houdini did just that. Houdini’s widow came to visit Downs near the end of his life as well.

It’s not surprising that someone left a quarter on Downs’ gravestone.

In the last two years of his life, Downs was confined to his bed. He died in 1938 and Harriet died in 1955. His great-grand nephew, Jim Downs, lives in Marshalltown today. He owns a large collection of Downs’ papers, books, and other personal items that he enjoys showing others so they can learn about the King of Koins.

Next week, I’ll have more memorable Marshalltown profiles to share, including a World War I flying ace and a MLB team owner.

Hawkeye State Adventures: Visiting Des Moines, Iowa’s Woodland Cemetery, Part IV

You cannot talk about Iowa cemeteries without mentioning white bronze markers. They’re actually zinc but they were marketed as “white bronze” at the time to make them sound grander. You can get a refresher here in my post about Council Bluff’s Fairview Cemetery (which has several white bronze markers). The parents company, Monumental Bronze Company, was in Bridgeport, Conn. but had subsidiaries in other cities, too.

To get a white bronze marker, you usually placed an order with a salesman who had a catalog you could look at. The marker would be shipped to you in pieces that were held together by screws often grounded in a concrete base. As a result, they were hollow inside. Knock on one and you can here the metallic ring. Some were very small like the one below but others were quite grand.

Bell Bennett died at the age of 19.

White bronze is important to Iowa because Des Moines was home to the Western White Bronze Co. as one of Monumental Bronze’s subsidiaries, along with Chicago and Detroit. The Des Moines factory opened in 1886 and closed in 1908. In 1914, the government took over the plant to manufacture munitions during World War. I was pleased to see several white bronze monuments/markers at Woodland.

This marker is a nice example of a small white bronze while exhibiting a seal of a fraternal organization I’d never heard of. A native of Iowa, William S. Clark was a bricklayer/mason. He married Emma J. Sutton in 1878 and they had one daughter, Eva.

The Improved Order of Red Men might sound like an organization for Native Americans but it wasn’t.

Prominently displayed on Clark’s marker is the seal of the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM). The TOTE stands for “Totem of the Eagle”. This fraternal organization traces its origin to certain secret patriotic societies founded before the American Revolution. They were established to promote liberty and defy the tyranny of the English Crown. Among the early groups were: The Sons of Liberty, the Sons of St. Tammany, and later the Society of Red Men. Originally called the Society of Red Men, the IORM traces its origins back to 1765. In 1834, they changed it to the Improved Order of Red Men.

IORM rituals and regalia are modeled after those used by Native Americans. The organization claimed a membership of about half a million in 1935, but has declined to less than 38,000. The ultimate irony is that the IORM did not allow any non-white members to join until 1974 and it’s doubtful any Native Americans have ever done so.

This small marker for Christina Wilhelmine Bacon is rather plain on the front.

Christina Wilhelmine Bacon died of tuberculosis in 1902 at the age of 23.

But it has the image of a figure pointing Heavenward on the other side.

A customer could choose from dozens of different motifs out of a catalog, from a cross to an anchor to even an ear of corn.

Herman and Julius Bleckmann’s monument is the most common type of white bronze I usually see. The broken chain can signify breaking the chain of death or the end of life. Born in Germany in 1852, Herman came to America with his parents Julius and Lisette Bleckmann as a child, and worked as a baker.

The top of the Bleckmann monument is in need of repair.

There’s something about the Bleckmann monument that puzzled me at first. I took a look on the base to see where it came from and was surprised to see this.

Why did the Bleckmann family order a white bronze marker from Detroit when they could get one from Des Moines?

If Des Moines residents had access to white bronze monuments in their own city where a factory produced them, why did this family get one from far-away Michigan? Then I realized that Herman Bleckmann died in 1882. The Des Moines factory didn’t open until 1886, four years after his death. So it makes sense that it came from Detroit after all.

Julius, Herman’s father, whose name is also on the monument, died in 1879. It’s possible the monument was made for him first and Herman’s name was added later but I don’t know.

Herman’s life was abruptly cut short, I did discover. He and a friend, George Crane, were celebrating the Fourth of July when something went wrong. At Herman’s front gate, George Crane allegedly shot Herman and he died. Although Crane was arrested and went to trial, he was acquitted. Herman was only 30 and I found no evidence that he ever married.

This large white bronze was for Samuel Van Cleve and two of his children. A native of Pennsylvania, he married Ruth L. Cook (daughter of a Baptist minister) in Ohio in 1850. They moved to Iowa in 1855 and had three children. Two died in infancy that are listed on the marker (William and Lillie) but their daughter, Marie Louisa, lived to adulthood and married David (or Daniel on some census records) Bringolf.

Portrait of Samuel Van Cleve taken from “Portrait and Biographical Album of Polk County, Iowa” published in 1890.

Samuel had a number of jobs in public works, most notably as superintendent of the water department and later as an assessor for the city. Samuel died in 1886 at the age of 61. Thanks to Ancestry.com, I was able to pull up his voluminous will.

A native of Pennsylvania, Samuel Van Cleve was superintendent of Des Moines’ water department and later, an assessor for the city.

According to his will, Samuel Van Cleve owned stock in the Western White Bronze Company at one time.

To my surprise, I found that Samuel owned stock in the Western White Bronze Co. From what I can tell, Ruth sold it after he died. The paperwork even included the bills for his casket ($125) and for the white bronze monument that you see above, which cost $465 at the time. You can also see a picture of the receipt for the monument, which she paid in 1888. If you adjust for inflation, the monument cost around $13,000. That’s not cheap!

Ruth lived with her daughter and her family in Des Moines after Samuel died. At some point after the turn of the century, the Bringolfs moved to Texas. Ruth died in 1910 and is buried in Myrtle Cemetery in Rock Hill, Texas. She was 93.

Ruth Van Cleve paid $465 for her husband’s monument in 1888. That would cost around $13,000 today.

There’s another white bronze at Woodland worth mentioning because it is not the usual gray/blue color. It has a silver color and a decidedly militaristic flavor.

Born in 1834 to Samuel and Mary Myers Orwig in Pennsylvania, Thomas Gilbert Orwig was a patent lawyer and Civil War veteran. There is little information on him prior to the Civil War.  He owned and operated the Union County Star with his brother Reuben, which they sold after a year of ownership.

I wasn’t sure what the objects on top of this monument were until a kind reader let me know they were artillery pieces. This makes sense considering Orwig’s military background.

On June 20, 1861, Orwig mustered into service with the 43rd Regiment, First Artillery, Battery E as a first lieutenant. In 1862, he was promoted to captain, and, in this capacity, served in the peninsular campaign and in the Army of the James. After a three-year term, Orwig resigned with his regiment on September 21, 1864.

He married Mary E. Sipp in Middletown, N.Y. in February 1864. They lived together in Yorktown until the end of his service. They had two children — Mabel, who was adopted, and Mary Gilberta Orwig born Feb. 24, 1865 and died January 26, 1867.

After the Civil War, the Orwigs moved to Des Moines and opened a patent office. I found a patent of his online (he had several) for a type of barbed wire that would prevent animal injury. Thomas also established a newspaper in Iowa known as The Industrial Motor in 1872, which was mainly devoted to mechanics, patent rights, and new inventions.

Oddly, the date of Thomas Orwig’s death is not on his marker.

Mary Orwig died on March 10, 1907 at the age of 67. One fact you can glean from the Orwig’s joint monument is that she was blind for 20 years of her life. I am guessing the monument was made when she died and that the information about Thomas was put on it at that time. His date of death is not on the monument anywhere but records confirm he died in 1910.

The last two monuments I wanted to mention are not white bronze but still stood out to me. The monument for the Rev. Ira Kenney is in the shape of a pulpit with a Bible on the top. A native of Truxton, N.Y., he was a graduate of Madison University and ordained the same year he graduated, 1849. He also married Mary E. Smith in the same year. I’m not sure when they moved to Iowa.

The Rev. Kennedy pastored several Baptist churches over the years. He also served as president of what was then known as the Des Moines University in the 1880s, which ultimately closed in 1929. The Rev. Kenney died in 1899.

The Rev. Ira Kenney’s monument looks like a church pulpit.

Finally, let’s talk about Landon Hamilton’s imposing monument. It’s one of the tallest in the cemetery and features the deceased’s face.

The Hamilton monument is one of the tallest at Woodland.

Born in Virginia in 1816, Landon Hamilton was described as “the dead recluse” by the Des Moines Register in an article written about him. His friend, Judge William Phillips, was one of the few who knew him well but wasn’t sure how Hamilton came to be in Iowa. Hamilton’s love of nature took the place of any family he might have had, he never married or had children. He earned his living by hunting and trapping.

A Des Moines Register article referred to Landon Hamilton as “the dead recluse.”

In later years, Hamilton catalogued his wide range of specimens, from animals to birds to fish to insects. When he died at the age of 81, his will instructed that his home and massive collection be left to the public for their enjoyment. Some articles claimed the state was going to do something with it, but it may very well have been auctioned off.

Hamilton also made specific plans for his monument at Woodland long before his death, down to the portrait etched on it. For a man who wasn’t known to enjoy mixing with people very much, he seemed to want to be remembered by them.

That brings my visit to Woodland Cemetery to an end. I’ll be moving on to other Iowa cemeteries in the weeks to come, but this one was definitely memorable.

Door of the DeCorpo mausoleum in Saint Ambrose Cemetery, which is part of Woodland Cemetery.

Hawkeye State Adventures: Visiting Des Moines, Iowa’s Woodland Cemetery, Part III

Yes, it’s Part III! Woodland Cemetery has enough to keep any “hopper” interested. Today I’m featuring three Des Moines businessmen that each contributed to the city’s history in different ways: Hoyt Sherman, Marcus Younker, and Henry C. Hansen.

While the Sherman mausoleum is not spectacular, the family is. Born the youngest of 11 children in 1827 to Ohio Supreme Court Justice Charles Sherman and Mary Hoyt Sherman, Hoyt Sherman came from a notable family. Brother John Sherman was U.S. Secretary of Treasury (under President Rutherford B. Hayes) and Secretary of State (under President William McKinley). But most will remember his more infamous brother, Union Major General William T. Sherman.

I’m not sure why the Sherman mausoleum is missing its door and is bricked up.

Hoyt Sherman arrived in Iowa in 1848 and joined the Bar the following year. In 1850, he was appointed Postmaster and served until he resigned and was elected clerk of the the District Court in 1853. On Christmas day 1855, Sherman married Sara Moulton, an Ohio native. They had five children. President Abraham Lincoln appointed him the Army Paymaster at the start of the Civil War, with the rank of Major.

Hoyt Sherman’s brothers are better known than he is, but he made his mark on Des Moines. (Photo Source: Hoyt Sherman Place web site)

Sherman served as an organizer of the Des Moines Coal Company, the Des Moines Water Company, Equitable Life Insurance Company, and served on the board of directors for the Iowa and Minnesota Railroad, as well as the Narrow Gauge Railroad. He was also a pioneer member of many organizations and societies.

In 1877, Hoyt Sherman Place, the family home, was completed with the help of architect William Foster. Almost immediately, it was noted to be, “a society showplace of the grandest scale.” After Hoyt Sherman’s death in 1904, it served as the first location of Mercy Hospital. In 1907, it became the clubhouse of the Des Moines Women’s Club, who added an art gallery, the first public art museum in the city. In 1923, a 1400-seat auditorium was completed for Club programs.

Hoyt Sherman Place began as the home of a Des Moines pioneer but is now a vital music/arts venue and gallery. (Photo source: Brad Lane)

Today, Hoyt Sherman Place hosts everything from Ballet Des Moines performances to rock concerts. In 2003, the facility underwent a large renovation project to restore the spaces to their original grandeur and add present-day amenities including state-of-the-art electrical fixtures and heating/air conditioning systems.

If you’ve visited the Iowa/Nebraska area at all, you’re probably familiar with Younker’s Department Stores. They got their start when three brothers (Marcus, Samuel, and Lipman) from Poland arrived in New York City then settled in Keokuk, Iowa (about three hours east of Des Moines) in 1856.

Marcus Younker ran the store while his brothers sold merchandise in the country to those too busy or too far away to come to town. (Photo Source: Jewish Museum of the American West web site)

Soon after they arrived, the brothers opened Younker & Brothers, a dry goods store that sold a variety of items. Marcus managed the store while his brothers strapped packs of merchandise on their backs that they carried into the countryside to farmers too busy or far away to come to town to shop. The store was closed on the Sabbath and Jewish Holidays.

As Keokuk declined and Des Moines’ star rose, half-brother Herman opened a 1,320-square-foot dry goods store in the capital city. When Samuel died unexpectedly in 1879, the Keokuk store was permanently closed and headquarters moved to Des Moines. The store then became Younker Brothers. In 1899, the Des Moines store at Seventh and Walnut Streets became the flagship store and remained open until 2005.

The Younker’s store at Seventh and Walnut Streets was in operation from 1899 to 2005. (Photo Source: The Department Store Museum)

Lipman Younker eventually moved to New York City and was involved in the garment trade until his death in 1902. Herman also moved to New York City to handle the company’s purchasing office there. That left Marcus to run things in Des Moines.

Undated postcard of Younker’s Tea Room in Des Moines. (Photo Source: CardCow.com)

Over the years, Younker’s locations multiplied over seven states. But the Des Moines flagship store was special. Women lunched at the elegant Tea Room upstairs, hosting bridal showers and other important events. Teenagers took their dates there for dinner and dancing. The store even had a knitting classroom. Younker’s boasted Iowa’s first escalator in 1939 and was the first department store in the U.S. to air condition its entire building.

For many decades, it was a mainstay for shoppers until new parent company Bon-Ton announced in April 2018 that it was liquidating its Younker’s stores. Sadly, the last Younker’s stores closed on August 29, 2018.

Marcus Younker’s mausoleum is located in Emmanuel Jewish Cemetery, which is part of Woodland Cemetery.

Although he officially retired in 1895, Marcus Younker remained close to help his successors. He balanced commercial interests with religious duties, serving several times as president of the B’nai Jeshurun congregation. When he died in 1926, Younker’s lost the last of its original founders. He is interred in the Emmauel Jewish Cemetery area of Woodland with his wife, Annie, and all four of his children (who all lived to adulthood).

Despite a 2014 fire at the old Younker’s building on Seventh and Walnut Streets, it is now known as the Wilkins Building and was turned into apartments. The famous Younker’s Tea Room (now known as just “The Tea Room”) was renovated and re-opened in September 2017 as an event space.

Norwegian native Henry C. Hansen operated and expanded the Wellington Hotel in Des Moines.

Thanks to helpful Facebook friends with access to Newspapers.com, I was able to uncover the history of the Henry C. Hansen family. A native of Norway born in 1853, Hansen came to America with his parents Christopher and Martha Hansen in 1856. The family lived in Chicago before buying a farm in Wisconsin. After working for an uncle in the paint business, Hansen attended a Chicago pharmaceutical college and became a druggist. He arrived in Des Moines in 1876 and established the Hansen Drug Co.

His fortunes rose with his store and he eventually moved it into the Wellington Hotel, which he had built earlier himself. Over the years, he expanded and improved the hotel drastically. In addition, he started the Garfield Clothing Company in 1883 and was president of the Home Savings Bank for 17 years. Needless to say he was a busy man!

Photo of Des Moines pioneer Henry C. Hansen. (Photo Source: Newspapers.com)

At age 46, Henry married Rose Welton in 1899. She was 25 at the time, 21 years his junior. They had at four children together — Henry Jr., Marthareen, Rose Marie, and Emerett. Henry Jr. assisted his father with the Garfield Clothing Co. while Marthareen worked at the hotel. Emerett became an attorney and had an office in his father’s hotel.

Rose Marie also worked for her father until she married Herbert Hauge in 1936, who soon after served as an Iowa State Representative for one term. She and Herbert are buried together at Resthaven Cemetery.

Unfortunately, the senior Hansen did not always see eye to eye with his eldest son. A 1927 Des Moines Register article reported that Henry Sr. requested a restraining order against Henry Jr., claiming that his son was trying to taken over both the clothing company and the hotel after Henry St. suffered a slight stroke earlier that year. Henry Sr. went so far as to allege Henry Jr. had threatened to kill him.

Henry C. Hansen St. tried to take out a restraining order against his eldest son in 1927. (Photo source: Newspapers.com)

Despite the issues noted in the 1927 article, after Henry Sr. died in 1935 of a cerebral hemorrhage, Henry Jr. took over the Garfield Clothing Co., selling it to Emerett in 1957. Henry Jr. married in 1939 but his wife, Ruth, sought to divorce him in 1943 under charges of cruel and inhumane treatment. She also asked for a restraining order.

When Rose Welton Hansen died in 1962, Henry Jr. appeared to no longer have any ties with the family businesses. But when he learned that his mother left the bulk of her estate worth well over $100,000 to his siblings Marthareen and Emerett, he contested her will in court.

I’m not sure how that was resolved but Henry Jr. died in 1968 in a nursing home. Despite the turmoil over the years, he is interred with his parents in the Hansen mausoleum at Woodland. Later, he was joined by siblings Marthareen (who died in 1972) and Emerett (who died in 1989).

Note the different textures of the stones beneath the pillars on both sides of the doors. Speculative Masons use the ashlar (finely dressed stone) in two forms: one rough (left), just as it came from the quarry, representing Man in his uncultivated state. The other (right), finely finished and ready for its place, represents Man, educated and refined. Many thanks to Mason Todd Oberlander for sharing this information with me.

The Hansen mausoleum did not grab my attention until I was looking at my pictures from Woodland this week. To the left above the pillars and to the center are two Masonic symbols, the “G” and the double eagle representing the Scottish Rite.

However, if you look at the upper right hand corner above the pillars, you can see what I recently learned was the “death’s head” version of the insignia of the Knights of Pythias. Many American fraternal organizations, including the Masons, use the skull and crossbones in their symbolism. For the Masons, it signifies mortality.

I had to zoom in so it’s not very clear but you can definitely see the skull.

Founded in 1864, the Knights of Pythias was the first fraternal organization to receive a charter under an act of Congress. Its founder was Justus H. Rathbone, who was inspired by a play by Irish poet John Banim about the legend of Damon and Pythias. This legend illustrates the ideals of loyalty, honor, and friendship at the center of the order. On this seal, the FCB stand for “Friendship, Charity, and Benevolence”, the Pythian motto.

As a prominent businessman, it’s not surprising Henry C. Hansen belonged to several fraternal organizations like the Masons and the Knights of Pythias. And it’s true that you can find memento mori (Latin for “remember, you will die”) skulls decorating many a slate gravestone from the late 1700s to mid-1800s. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen a skull on an American mausoleum.

Next week, I’ll wrap up my series on Woodland Cemetery by featuring a few more eye-catching markers and monuments.

Hawkeye State Adventures: Visiting Des Moines, Iowa’s Woodland Cemetery, Part II

I barely scratched the surface at Woodland Cemetery last week so I hope you’ve come back for more.

Woodland has some unique children’s grave markers that I’ll refer to as “baby bed” graves because they resemble a child’s bed. While I have seen some akin to this because their framing looks like a bed or cradle, none had stone “pillows” as part of them. People sometimes call them “garden graves” because they plant flowers in them.

The first one belongs to three children of Jefferson Scott Polk and Julia Herndon Polk. Born in 1831 in Kentucky, J.S. Polk became an attorney. He married Julia Herndon in 1853. In the 1850s, Polk formed a partnership with Judge P.M. Casady and M.M. Crocker (both buried at Woodland). In 1861, Crocker entered the military service, and the firm became Casady & Polk, continuing until 1864.

Jefferson Scott Pike and his wife, Julia Herndon Polk, in their later years.

After Judge Casady retired, F.M. Hubbell (whom we talked about last week) took his place and for 25 years Polk & Hubbell was synonymous with the “push and enterprise in the town” (according to one account). Along with Hubbell, Polk helped found the Equitable Life Insurance Company. He was also instrumental in getting Des Moines’ street car service up and running, which included using it for mail delivery. When he died in 1907, one account of Polk’s funeral said 100 uniformed street car employees served as a guard of honor.

Jefferson and Julia are thought to have seven children buried at Woodland. Three of them (Mary, Lutie, and Daniel) all died under the age of 10 between 1863 and 1871. You can no longer see their names on the circles on the headboard.

The Polk children’s “bed” grave marker was recently restored. Three stone pillows rest against the frame. Their parents, J.S. and Julia Polk, are buried beside them.

I knew before visiting Woodland that the “baby bed” grave markers were in the process of being restored thanks to hard-working volunteers. Jean Wilson and Kelly Penman have unearthed these “beds”, some of which were sunken deep into the ground, along with reattaching the frames and cleaning off years of grime. The colorful pavers and gravel in the Polk “bed’ have replaced the thick weeds that were there before.

Herndon Hall was built in 1881 in the Queen Anne style. It was designed by the Des Moines architectural firm of Foster & Liebbe for the Polk family. (Photo Source: C.A. Tucker, Wikipedia)

Understandably, Julia greatly mourned her little ones. She would often spend hours mourning her children at Woodland, sometimes sitting beside their grave after it had turned dark outside. Worried about her, Jefferson required the carriage driver to stay at the cemetery during her visits until she was ready to return to their home, Herndon Hall.

Behind the Polk “baby bed” are two more for the Miller and Turner families. I don’t know the names of the children. They were still being repaired when I was at Woodland. Jean was kind enough to let me post these photos of the Miller “baby bed” grave, before and after.

The Miller children’s grave before it was fully unearthed. (Photo source: Jean Wilson)

This is what the Miller grave looks like now. (Photo source: Jean Wilson)

In a another part of the cemetery is a “baby bed” marker belonging to the Scribner family. A native of Connecticut, Henry Scribner was born in 1822 and lived in New York until the 1850s. He married Abigail Farnham in 1853 in Watertown, N.Y. Sometime after that, they moved to Des Moines. Henry found work in real estate and did well.

This is what the Scribner bed looked like before Kelly G. Penman unearthed it. (Photo source: Jean Wilson)

Until recently, the Scribner “bed” was in pieces and deep in the ground. Careful restoration brought it back to its original glory. The children’s names (Roger and Jennie) are etched on the pillows.

Their first child, Jennie, was born on Feb. 6, 1856 in Des Moines but died only a handful of weeks later. Two more children, Minnie and George, followed in 1857 and 1861, and they would live to adulthood. Their last child, Roger, was born in January 1869 but died exactly six months later.

Henry Scribner died in 1882 under mysterious circumstances. In September 1882, he was found lying unconscious in front of a coal office on Des Moines’ Sixth Street, having been brutally assaulted. He died the next day of his injuries, with no witnesses coming forward to name who’d done it. Despite a $500 reward offered by Governor Buren Sherman, the culprit was never found. Abigail died in 1904 at the age of 74.

One of the “baby bed” graves that I missed when I was there was the Harry Ashley grave. Jean Wilson photographed it before and after she had completed cleaning it up. I am borrowing her photo from Find a Grave for the after picture. Notice the Lilly of the Valley carved on the side of it.

Jean Wilson was able (with good old-fashioned “elbow grease”) to dig out the pieces of Harry’s marker. (Photo source: Jean Wilson)

The “baby bed” for Harry Ashley is a single. (Photo Source: Jean Wilson, Find a Grave)

Born on May 28, 1881, Harry was the son of brick mason William Martin Ashley and Rebecca Smith Ashley. He died on July 1, 1882 having lived just a few months over a year. The top of the headboard says “HARRY” and above the pillow on the inside of the headboard says “Our Darling”.

Toward the center of the cemetery are three mausoleums situated beside each other that puzzled me when I first saw them. A large white one, a brick one with only a last name and one almost completely overtaken by the ground it was built into.

The Baker mausoleum on the right is a bit of a mystery.

I could find out nothing about the Baker mausoleum on the far right, which appears to be crumbling. In the center, marked with a date of 1900, is the Giles brick mausoleum. A New York native, Elliott Marion Giles moved to Iowa in the 1860s and married Alice Wigton in 1868. Records indicate he worked as a druggist but later as an insurance salesman. They had three children together.

When Elliott died in 1919, he was living in Tulsa, Okla. with Alice, who died later in 1927. Why the vault is dated 1900 is interesting since Elliott Giles was supposedly the first person recorded to have been interred within it.

By comparison, the mausoleum on the far left was in stellar condition. From the small plaque on the front, I learned it was the final resting place of Iowa Governor Samuel Merrill (1868-1872). It wasn’t until I got home that I found out that the Merrill mausoleum had looked just as bad as its neighbors only a few years ago.

Iowa Governor Samuel Merrill worked in education, farming, and retail before entering politics.

Born in Turner, Maine in 1822, Samuel Merrill became a teacher and moved to the South. Finding his strong abolitionist views unpopular there, he returned to New England to try farming then entered the mercantile business. Merrill was first married to Catherine Thomas, who died in 1847, 14 months after their marriage. In January 1851, he married Elizabeth Hill of Buxton, Maine.

In 1854, Merrill was elected on the abolitionist ticket to the New Hampshire legislature. The Merrills moved to McGregor, Iowa in 1856 and Samuel was elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 1859. In 1862, he was commissioned Colonel of the 21st Iowa Volunteer Infantry Regiment, serving until seriously wounded at the Battle of Big Black River Bridge in May 1863 as part of the Vicksburg Campaign.

General Ulysses S. Grant, who led the campaign, referred to Merrill as “eminently brilliant and daring” and that had Merrill not been a general officer at the time, he would have recommended him for the Medal of Honor.

Due to extensive damage caused by a falling oak tree and a century of neglect, the final resting place of Gov. Samuel Merrill became home to raccoons and opossums. (Photo source: Patriot Outreach web page)

In 1867, Merrill was elected Governor of Iowa on the Republican ticket, and served for two terms, from 1868 to 1872. His record as a civic-minded legislator and patriotic Army officer gave him significant political capital in postwar Iowa.

Samuel and Elizabeth Merrill had four children, three of them dying in childhood. Their son, Jere, lived to the age of 69. The couple eventually moved to California, where Elizabeth died in 1888. In 1897, Samuel was in a streetcar accident and never recovered. His remains were sent back to Iowa and interred in the Merrill mausoleum.

Over time, the Merrill mausoleum fell into disrepair. A falling oak tree damaged it and neglect adding to it becoming a haven for raccoons and opossums. As you can see in the photo above, it was in terrible shape.

The Merrill mausoleum as it looked in September 2017.

In 2016, several organizations and individual Iowans came together to bring the Merrill mausoleum back to its former glory, including Patriot Outreach, former State Senator Dennis Black, Westbrooke Construction, and others. Two-time Iowa Governor Terry Branstad’s foundation, the Iowa History Fund, donated money as well. A special ceremony was held at Woodland in June 2016 to unveil the refurbished mausoleum.

One mystery was solved during the renovation — the whereabouts of Elizabeth Merrill’s remains. Cemetery records did not indicate that she had ever been interred in the mausoleum back in 1888 so nobody knew for sure. When the Merrill mausoleum was opened, her remains were found there with her husband’s.

Next time, I’ll be talking about more mausoleums at Woodland and some of the more unique markers there.