J. Sterling Morton’s Arbor Day: Stopping by Nebraska City’s Wyuka Cemetery, Part I

After our Iowa Adventure, Christi and I were both ready to get back to Omaha. But since we were near southwest Nebraska, I asked for one last cemetery hop. Nebraska City’s Wyuka Cemetery (not to be confused with the one in Lincoln) was on my list of places to visit and it was on our way back.

Wyuka Cemetery was established around 1855.

As we drove in, I saw a sign directing us toward a computer kiosk where guests can look up grave locations. Now THAT was a surprise! Cemeteries with written grave locations on a board are fairly rare. But a freestanding computer to look up names? Wyuka Cemetery does indeed have one and it works well.

I don’t know how long Wyuka Cemetery has had a computerized kiosk but I was impressed.

Established in 1855, Wyuka has about 16,000 burials recorded on Find a Grave and covers around 35 acres. Cemetery records only go back to 1888 because of a fire. It was named Wyuka Cemetery in 1856, signifying the Indian vernacular for “place of rest.”

Nebraska City’s Most Famous Resident

There’s no question who the most famous person buried at Wyuka is and the plot’s impressive monument is equal to the prestige. Julius Sterling Morton, a U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and founder of the holiday known as Arbor Day, is buried here with his wife and some of their family. The massive tree-shaped monument was commissioned after the death of Mrs. Morton in 1881. I’ll share the details on that later.

My father-in-law, Craig, actually attended J. Sterling Morton High School in Cicero (a Chicago suburb) and the school district is also named after him. Since Morton never lived in Chicago, this puzzled me until I learned that Morton was good friends with Cicero resident and fur trader Portus Baxter Weare. One of Morton’s sons, Mark, married Weare’s daughter, Martha.

Born in New York in 1832, Morton got his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and married his high school sweetheart, Caroline “Carrie” Joy French. They moved to the Nebraska Territory in 1855, where they purchased 160 acres of land in Nebraska City.

J. Sterling Morton married Caroline “Carrie” Joy French in 1854 before moving to Nebraska. Her mother died when she was only a year old.

Morton became editor of the local newspaper, the Nebraska City News and soon began his political career as a conservative Democrat. In 1858, President James Buchanan appointed Morton secretary of the Nebraska Territory, and he twice served as acting governor. Morton was a candidate for delegate to Congress in 1860 and received a certificate of election from the governor. However, Morton was never allowed to take his seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as his election was contested in the overwhelmingly Republican House.

J. Sterling Morton served as the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for President Grove Cleveland.

While Morton loved politics, his passion for trees might have been even greater. In Nebraska City, Morton built a mansion that resembles the White House that he called Arbor Lodge. On the surrounding estate, Morton planted many rare varieties and heirloom apple trees. Respected as an agriculturalist, Morton taught modern techniques of farming and forestry. Among his most significant achievements was the founding of Arbor Day, which is usually celebrated on the last Friday in April.

Arbor Lodge and its grounds were donated by the Morton family to the State of Nebraska after J. Sterling Morton’s death. (Photo source: gonebraskacity.com)

Morton became well known in Nebraska for his political, agricultural, and literary activities. He was appointed U.S. Secretary of Agriculture by President Grover Cleveland in 1893. He is credited with helping change that department into a coordinated service to farmers, and he supported Cleveland in setting up national forest reservations.

Morton and Carrie had four sons. The eldest son, Joy (yes, you read that right), founded the Morton Salt Company, along with his brother, Mark. The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Ill. was begun by Joy, who shared his father’s love of trees. Both brothers are buried in the Morton Family Cemetery in Lisle, Ill.

The Morton Arboretum, in Lisle, Ill., is a public garden and outdoor museum with a library, herbarium, and program in tree research including the Center for Tree Science. Its 1,700 acres draw over a million visitors a year, especially for its Christmas Illumination spectacular which I attended this year.

Paul became Secretary of the Navy under President Theodore Roosevelt. He is buried at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, N.Y. Youngest son Carl founded the Argo Starch Company that still exists today. He is the only Morton brother buried at Wyuka Cemetery.

The sons of J. Sterling and Carrie Morton. Paul and Mark stand behind eldest Joy and youngest Carl.

Branches of a Family

The Morton plot contains the graves of J. Sterling Morton, Carrie Morton, their son, Carl Morton, Carl’s wife, Boatie Payne Morton, Caroline’s foster mother, Cynthia French, J. Sterling’s sister, Emma Morton, and a granddaughter, Laura Weare Morton.

The Morton plot contains seven graves. Only one of the four Morton sons is buried there.

Surrounding the plot is a log-themed border, complete with planters at the entrance and on two corners. Considering how much Morton loved trees, it makes perfect sense.

Even the words bordering the steps have a knotty wood appearance.

One article stated that the “tree” itself weighs eight tons. I can’t imagine how strong the oxen or horses had to have been to pull the wagon carrying it.

“Love at First Glimpse”

On the front of the tree is the inscription for Carrie and J. Sterling. Carrie’s mother, Caroline Hayden Joy, died about a year after her daughter’s birth in Michigan. Her father, Hiram Joy, agree to let neighbors Deacon David French and Cynthia French raise Carrie while sending them financial support. Her name became Caroline Joy French to reflect that arrangement but she was still close with her father, who became quite wealthy over the years.

Morton was devastated by his wife’s death in 1881. He commissioned F.O. Cross to create this stunning tree monument in her memory, working out the minutest of details.

Carrie loved running Arbor Lodge and helping her husband in all of his ventures. Of her marriage to Morton, she said, “We fell for each other at first glimpse and we were never cured.” A knee injury that never healed put her health in jeopardy and Carrie Morton died at the age of 47 on June 29, 1881.

To the left is a copy of “Rock of Ages”, one of Carrie’s favorite hymns. To the right is a painter’s palette, reflecting her love of painting, with the word “Mother” on it.

On the other side is an inscription for Carrie’s foster mother, Cynthia French, who died at Arbor Lodge in November 1857 at the age of 70. Youngest son Carl died in 1901 in Waukegan, Ill., where he had just moved with his wife and children. I found reports of  differing causes of death, from a hearth attack to pneumonia to a cerebral hemorrhage. He was only 35.

Carl Morton, youngest son of J. Sterling and Carrie, started the Argo Starch Company in the 1880s.

Carl’s wife, Boatie Payne Morton, known as “Lizzie”, died in 1932 at the age of 63. She and Carl had two children, Wirth and Martha.

A Sister Helps a Brother

At the base of the tree is a lone tablet inscribed with the name of Morton’s younger unmarried sister, Emma. When Caroline died, Morton was devastated. He asked Emma to move into Arbor Lodge and she took over the running of the house. He depended on her to help him finish the remodeling Carrie was working on when she died. Morton left Emma an annuity in his will to take care of her for her remaining lifetime. She died in April 1912.

J. Sterling Morton did not forget his sister Emma’s devotion and left an annuity for her in his will.

J. Sterling’s health took a turn after Carl’s death in 1901 and he was never quite the same. He died on April 27, 1902 in Chicago while visiting Paul in Illinois. His body was returned to Nebraska City by train and he was buried with his beloved Carrie at Wyuka Cemetery.

After his death, the family donated Arbor Lodge and the estate grounds to the State of Nebraska. The estate is now preserved as the Arbor Lodge State Historical Park. You can visit Arbor Lodge from April to October, which is furnished as it was in 1905.

Skill in Stone

The man who created this massive tree monument was Ferdinand O. Cross, a skilled carver with a known reputation. You can even find his name and address on it.

Ferdinand Cross would partner with John Rowe to create Cross and Rowe Monumental Works.

Born in 1838 to stone carver John Cross and Sophronia Hewitt Cross of Binghamton, N.Y., Ferdinand learned his craft from his father. He moved to Bedford, Ind., the “Limestone Capital of the World” in the 1880s where he started his own monument business.

Ferdinand eventually met John Rowe and they formed a partnership known as Cross & Rowe Monumental Works. They often used Bedford stone as their medium of choice because it was easy to work with when first quarried. After the shape was carved, it was set outside to harden. You can find their monuments in cemeteries across the country, although this is one of their most notable examples. The also provided carvings to the World’s Fair in 1883 in Chicago.

Laura Weare Morton was J. Sterling and Carrie’s granddaughter.

A Child’s Short Life

I would be remiss if I did not mention the one stone sitting by itself in one corner. It is for Laura Weare Morton, the first child of Mark and Martha Parkhurst Weare Morton. She was born in May 1889 and died on Dec. 11, 1892 in Nebraska City. According to her obituary, Laura and her parents had come to Arbor Lodge for Thanksgiving when she became ill with scarlet fever.

There’s more to be discovered at Wyuka Cemetery. I’ll be back with more in my next post.

Hawkeye State Adventures: Exploring the Clarinda Treatment Complex Cemetery, Part II.

Last week, I shared some of the stories I discovered while researching the Clarinda Treatment Complex Cemetery in Iowa. Today I’ve got some more for you that reflect the different people that found themselves there over the years.

This is the stone for a young woman named Goldie Brown. I don’t have all the pieces to her story, but what I found made me sad.

Goldie’s stone is worn but you can still make out her name.

Blind From Birth

Goldie was born to Thomas Brown and Phylena Conn Brown on Jan. 29, 1903 in Iowa. She and her family were living in Tilden, Kansas according to the 1910 Census. Goldie is listed as being blind, the only record where I found this fact mentioned. An Ancestry member noted she was blind from birth. In no records did I ever find her listed as insane.

By 1920, Goldie had moved to Glenwood to the Iowa Institution for Feeble-Minded Children (IIFMC). In March 1876, the Iowa legislature designated the grounds of the former Glenwood Orphan’s Home as the location for the first Iowa Asylum for Feeble-Minded Children. The 1877 Annual Report listed 85 children and already crowded conditions. It was eventually renamed the IIFMC.

Goldie Brown spent at least 10 years living at the Iowa Institution for Feeble-Minded Children in Glenwood, Iowa. The architecture was much like the Kirkbride plan at Clarinda State Hospital. Photo is from 1904. (Photo source: Robert Elliott Flickinger – The pioneer history of Pocahontas County, Iowa)

The IIFMC expanded to over 1,000 acres as it became its own self-contained community, isolated from the rest of Glenwood by a wrought iron fence. By 1908, the resident population numbered 1,100 people overseen by a staff of 175. The IIFMC is now known as the Glenwood Resource Center and provides mental health services to about 400 people.

Goldie was 27 when she left the IIFMC and arrived at the Clarinda State Hospital in April 1930. She died on Feb. 11, 1937. Her death record states that she died of bronchopneumonia and had epilepsy. Her mother had already had passed away in 1931 of tuberculosis. Her father, Timothy, died in 1938 from angina. Goldie was 34 at the time of her death.

The Sad End of Mary Lewis Freno

When I began researching the life of Mary Freno, I only knew she was 34 at the time of her death, which seemed quite young. I thought because she had a nice marker and not the plain one provided by the CSH, she had family that cared about her. It turned out things were not as I supposed.

Abandoned by her husband, Mary Freno found herself at the Clarinda State Hospital. Who provided the stone for her?

Born in Kansas City, Mo. around 1886, Mary Lewis was the only child of Italian immigrants Samuel and Mary Lewis. In August 1908, she married Italian native Louis Freno in Wapello, Iowa. Born in 1889, his real name was Luigi Fiorini and he came to America in 1902. Later, he had another alias, Tom Davis. Mary was 24 at the time.

The 1910 U.S. Census lists the couple as living in Ottumwa with Mary’s widowed mother and Louis working for the railroad. I found a clipping announcing the death of Mary’s mother, Mary Lewis, who died at the age of 71 on Sept. 13, 1910.

By 1920, everything had changed. Mary was living in Indianola with her four children, ranging in age from 9 years to 18 months. Louis was not living with them. I found him in a Des Moines directory listed as a miner in 1916 and 1917. His World War I draft card claimed he was supporting “mother, father, wife and three children.” He does not appear again until 1940 when he was living in California with his father and going by his original name, Luigi Fiorini.

Luigi Fiorini aka Louis Freno aka Tom Davis is buried in Italian Cemetery in Alamadea, Calif. He vanished from the lives of his first wife and children, yet his gravestone says “Dear Husband” on it. (Photo source: Find a Grave)

I don’t know if Mary knew she how ill she was when she went to live at CSH not long after that. She died on Oct. 14, 1921 and her cause of death is listed as tuberculosis. Also written on her death record is “deserted by husband”. I can only guess that with four children and no family left to help her, Mary didn’t know where to turn. A sadder end I cannot picture.

The Fate of the Freno Children

So what happened to the Freno children? Eldest son Joseph spent time at the Iowa Soldier’s Orphans Home in Davenport, Iowa until enlisting in the U.S. Cavalry. Ida eventually married. Frank and Guy were adopted by different families. All of them spent most of their lives in Iowa.

Mary Freno’s son, Frank, was adopted by Joseph and Emma Bechtel. He became the leader of a popular local band, Frank Bechtel’s Orchestra. That’s him on the far right end. Photo is from 1940. (Photo source: IAGenWeb)

I found a 1940 photo of Frank as an adult, leading his orchestra in the 1930s and 40s. He played the guitar and banjo. They were a popular group that played at many ballrooms around the area.

Meanwhile, Louis Freno married a woman named Josephine in 1941 and worked as a machinist. He became a naturalized citizen in 1943. He died in 1951 in Colma, Calif. and is buried in the Italian Cemetery there. His marker says “Dear Husband” on it.

I admit, I have some not so kind thoughts for Louis/Luigi/Tom. The evidence points to him abandoning his wife when she needed him most and leaving his four young children fatherless. Perhaps there is more to the story that I don’t know. But she did not deserve the fate handed to her.

Descent into Schizophrenia

Joseph Thorp’s story is another tragedy. Born in Canada in 1898, he was the son of George and Martha Larabee Thorp. By 1920, they were farming in Missouri. Joseph, at age 21, married Edith Elsie Gigler, who was 20, on Oct. 4, 1923 in Lamoni, Iowa.

Joseph’s death was a tragic end for a young man battling schizophrenia.

The 1930 U.S. Census lists Joseph and Edith living with Joseph’s parents in Burrell, Iowa. By that time, they had three children, James, Josephine, and Mildred.

Joseph Thorp’s descent into schizophrenia must had been frightening for both him and his family. There were no drugs to combat it then. In 1933, Joseph was sent to live at CSH and on On Oct. 30 of that year, Joseph committed suicide by hanging himself with his bedsheet. His death record notes that he suffered from “dementia praecox”, a term that’s been replaced by schizophrenia. By this time, another son, Leo, had joined the family.

The 1940 U.S. Census lists Edith and her four children living with her parents and bachelor brother, Arthur, in Hamilton, Iowa. She never remarried. She died in 1994 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery in Lamoni, Iowa, sharing a gravestone with Arthur.

A Mother and Her Sons

Finally, here’s an unusual story of a mother and two of her sons that all died at CSH. This was the last stone I photographed the day we were there.

Elizabeth Leigh spent the last few years of her life with her eldest son, Vinton, at Clarinda State Hospital.

Born in Ohio, Elizabeth Jacque married Daniel Leigh in Knox, Ill. in 1859. They had three sons, Vinton, Willard and Al. Four other children died in infancy/childhood. In 1885, Daniel Leigh died and was buried in West Jersey Cemetery in Illinois. That same year, Elizabeth moved with her sons to Locust Grove, Iowa.

By 1893, Elizabeth, with sons Willard and Al, had moved to Clarinda. Vinton was now living at CSH. I suspect Elizabeth wanted to be close enough to visit him as often as she could. According to a newspaper article, she asked to join him at CSH in the last years of her life. She died there on March 6, 1915. The Iowa state census records for that year list her as insane, but it’s possible she just wanted to be near her son. Vinton died on May 3, 1928 at the age of 50.

After living at the county farm (which often meant “poor house”) for several years, son Willard entered CSH in 1919. So he spent his last years with Vinton. From the sound of his obituary, Willard was allowed to come and go as he pleased:

Willard Leigh, resident of the state hospital since 1919, and well known about Clarinda by his frequent visits to church and about town, passed away last Tuesday morning. He had been failing for several months and friends had missed him. He had a stroke several nights before his death and never regained consciousness. Burial will be made at the hospital cemetery.

Willard died on April 30, 1934 at the age of 73. He is listed as being buried at Clarinda City Cemetery, which is just down the road from the CTC Cemetery, but there is no photograph of his grave. Al, the last son of the family, moved back to West Jersey, Ill. to farm. He died there in 1940 and is buried in the same cemetery as his father.

Leaving this cemetery was hard because there were a lot of stones I didn’t have time to photograph. I hope to go back someday and finish what I started. So many stories there I would like to write. So many lives unknown.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this Hawkeye state adventure, a part of the country I’d never experienced before. It featured many moments I will always treasure.

Hawkeye State Adventures: Exploring the Clarinda Treatment Complex Cemetery, Part I

Christi and I left Villisca and headed for Clarinda. No mass murders there, thankfully! But it was a place we’d both been once before.

We first visited in 2012 after I arranged a visit to what began as the Clarinda State Hospital (CSH) in 1885. By 2012, the name had changed to the Clarinda Treatment Complex (CTC). The huge rambling building (500,000 square feet) only had about 50 or so geriatric patients still living there, along with a school for delinquent youths called the Clarinda Academy

Why did I want to visit a mental institution? One of my own ancestors lived in such an institution in Athens, Ohio during his final years, which I wrote about in 2014. That made me curious and such places are usually off limits to the public. In 2012, the CTC had a museum devoted to its past that could be toured if you contacted them. So that’s what we did. I didn’t take many photos but the ones I did take have been lost.

This photo of Clarinda State Hospital from 1908 gives one a better idea of just how big the place was. (Photo source: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.)

Brandon Hunter, who was in charge of activities for the geriatric patients, showed us around the facility. The museum was enlightening, featuring some of the outdated devices used for psychiatric treatment. The facility itself was full of windows and let in lots of light. It was not a dreary place in general. The only place I did not like was when Brandon took us to where they kept recycling until collection day, the former solitary cells for what I took to be possibly violent patients (no longer used, thankfully). They were dark and scary, and we got out of there as soon as possible.

A postcard of the Clarinda State Hospital’s “Amusement Hall”. It looked quite different when we saw it in 2012. They still had an ancient movie projector gathering dust.

The CTC closed in 2015, deemed too large and too empty to keep operating. Clarinda residents fought to keep it open because it did employ a number of people, including several farmers who provided food. But Iowa’s legislature said no and it closed.

This view of the building only shows one very small part of a huge complex.

We drove to the main building first and it looked very much as it did in 2012. No plans for it seem imminent. According to a 2017 article, substance abuse treatment center Zion Recovery is using part of the building. The basement kitchens are still being used by the nearby prison. Also on campus is the Clarinda Academy, a facility for delinquent youth sent from across the country which was in the news recently for troubling reasons. So its future is in question as well.

The CSH was the third asylum built in Iowa, with plans to house alcoholics, geriatrics, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and the criminally insane. An act of the Twentieth General Assembly of the State of Iowa authorized the appropriation of $150,000 for that purpose. Building began in 1885, with a section for men opening in 1888. Women patients arrived later.

The building’s design follows several other mental institutions built in the Victorian era originally thought up by Dr. Thomas Story Kirkbride, a style now known as the Kirkbride plan. He envisioned an asylum with a central administration building flanked by two wings comprised of tiered wards.

Respected for his accomplishments by his peers, Kirkbride was also reviled by a younger generation of doctors who viewed his influence and devotion to his beliefs as obstacles to progress in psychiatric medicine. (Photo source: Portrait by Howard Russell Butler)

This “linear plan” followed a segregation of residents according to sex and symptoms of illness. Male patients were housed in one wing, female patients in the other. Each wing was sub-divided by ward with the more “excited” patients placed on the lower floors, farthest from the central administrative structure, and the better-behaved, more rational patients situated in the upper floors and closer to the administrative center.

Ideally, this arrangement was intended to make patients’ asylum experience more comfortable and productive by isolating them from other patients with illnesses antagonistic to their own while still allowing fresh air, natural light, and views of the asylum grounds from all sides of each ward.

Brandon told us that while many asylums had very bad reputations, Clarinda was better than most in treating its patients humanely. But like many asylums, overcrowding caused lots of problems until the advent of psychotropic medications like lithium made the need for institutions less pressing.

Also, as I learned from my research about the Athens Asylum, anyone could be committed to a mental asylum in those days for several reasons. If you were tired of caring for your elderly parent, you could drop him or her off at the asylum with few questions asked. Epileptics, post-partum mothers, disobedient teens…all were possible candidates for residency.

Find a Grave lists about 1,200 for the Clarinda Treatment Complex Cemetery. But only 17 percent are photographed.

I didn’t have time to visit the cemetery in 2012 so it was a “must do” this time. Unlike other mental institutions that have cemeteries featuring only a marker with a number, Clarinda’s cemetery has stones with actual names and death years on them. There are even a few markers scattered about that were provided by families.

Most of the stones at the CTC Cemetery only have a date and name on them.

The cemetery is located about a quarter of a mile from the main building between a large cornfield and a cow pasture. The cows were quite intrigued with us and came over to see what we were up to.

The cows actually stopped what they were doing around the pasture and moseyed over to check us out.

Knowing few of these small markers were photographed, I took pictures of as many as I could. Some had faded so greatly that you couldn’t make out the name or date. But I added what I could read to Find a Grave later and looked up some of the stories written about them.

This particular marker for George M. Bird (1842-1912) indicates he did have family that cared about him. Born in 1842 in Illinois, George enlisted in Company A of the Iowa 12th Infantry Regiment on Oct. 17, 1861 at the age of 19. It appears he never married.

Union veteran George Bird spent the last months of his life at Clarinda State Hospital.

George appears in the 1900 U.S. Census as living with his sister, Jerusia Steen, and her family in Watkins, Okla. as an invalid. He was still living with his sister and her husband in 1910 in Harrison County, Iowa. George’s veteran administration records indicate he began receiving a pension in 1892, listing that he had a “disease of the chest” and is also marked “imbecile”.

I don’t know what George’s exact cause of death was. Only that he likely only spent the last year or so at Clarinda State Hospital (CSH). It’s possible Jerusia and her husband, getting older themselves, could no longer care for him.

Many of the people buried in the cemetery that I researched were elderly and only spent the last few years of their lives at CSH, with “exhaustion from psychosis” being listed as past of their cause of death. However, there was a pair of stones beside each other for William J. Dunlap and Elizabeth Dunlap that puzzled me. I think they may be siblings but I am not certain.

William Dunlap entered CSH when he was 28 years old. Did his sister join him four years later?

William J. Dunlap was born in 1861 somewhere in Iowa. His death certificate lists him as having been a farmer and a schoolteacher in Ringgold, Iowa when he entered the Clarinda State Hospital in December 1888. He was 28 at the time. Listed as single, he lived there for 45 years until his death on Jan. 7, 1934 from “exhaustion from psychosis” and “cerebral arteriosclerosis”.

Elizabeth Dunlap, born in 1866, is also listed as a schoolteacher from Ringgold, Iowa when she entered CSH in 1892. She was 26 at the time. Listed as single, she lived there for 41 years before dying on Nov. 3, 1933 of lobar pneumonia. This was only about two months before William died.

Elizabeth Dunlap entered Clarinda State Hospital four years after William Dunlap.

I could not find out anything about William or Elizabeth’s parents, neither of them appears in census records before their time at CSH. Because they are listed as being single, school teachers from Ringgold, and are buried next to each other, I think they must have been siblings. At least in once record, Elizabeth is listed as insane on an Iowa state census record. I like to think perhaps that if they were brother and sister, they took comfort from each other’s presence over the years.

There are many more stories to share from Clarinda. I hope you’ll join me next time to learn about them.

I’m standing beside the grave of John Sheridan Smith, who died at the age of 28 on Nov. 9, 1918. It’s possible he died of the Spanish Influenza sweeping the country at the time.

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.