Last week was devoted entirely to Fairview Cemetery’s handsome white bronze monuments. Today I finish my series on Fairview by walking among some forgotten grave markers that most visitors don’t even notice.
After you enter the front gates, and if you see a dirt road veering to the left, you’ll notice a back hillside that is much less orderly than the rest of the place. The rather sharp incline of the hillside is probably not easy to mow. The graves are scattered here and there with no real plan. And some markers have clearly seen better days.
Here’s one view of it. You can see the dirt road that goes around it.
I found this sign indicating there are prairie grasses present. I don’t know if they’re trying to let it grow wild.
Some graves are together in family plots, but many are alone. Several bear the names of Danish, German and Irish immigrants that came to America looking to start a new life. They were carpenters, farmers and railroad workers. Not bankers or lawmakers whose names appeared in local history books.
Some graves are for children whose parents were immigrants that moved on. I was certain I would find little to nothing about either of the Reitsma children, but Ancestry surprised me.
Sypko Reitsma was born on Feb. 14, 1892 in Leuwarden in Holland to Klaas Cornelis Reitsma and Akke Swierstra Reitsma. The couple married in Rauwerderhem in 1889 and emigrated to America soon after.
Little Sypko died at the age of 7 in 1899. His brother, who was unnamed, was born and died in August of the same year. The Reitsmas had other children that did survive. By 1910, they had left Council Bluffs for Oregon where Klaas found work as a carpenter. Akke died in 1925 and Klaas died in 1952. Both are buried at Multnomah Park Cemetery in Portland, Ore.
Anna Catherine Magdalena Stelling’s stone sits by itself under a tree. A German immigrant, she was married to a fellow German immigrant named Fred Stelling. They were married in April 1898. Because the details of her will are on Ancestry, I learned that the sale of her possessions was possibly needed to pay her medical bills. Beyond her sewing machine, she didn’t have much.
The son of John William and Anna Christine Madison Gibler appears to be alone. I couldn’t find a name on the stone but Find a Grave identifies him as Robert Burdette Gibler, who died at the age of 2. I learned that his maternal grandparents, Charles and Sene Madison, are buried beside him in unmarked graves. His parents, who died in the 1940s, are buried at nearby St. Joseph Cemetery with their other son, Harvey, who lived much longer and died at 61.
Hazel Verna Young is alone, her parents burial site unknown. I learned that she was the daughter of L.A. and L.E. Young. She was only 11 when she died. Her obituary states she had heart disease. I could find nothing about her parents beyond their names and address in Council Bluffs.
I felt sadness for Harold Hall, who lived only 15 months before he died. A photo on Find a Grave of the marker from 2009 shows it as unbroken. It now lies on the ground in two pieces. There are other Halls buried at Fairview but I don’t know if any of them are his parents.
Two men are buried on the hillside who appear to have come to America in their younger days but on their own. Daniel Ashton, a native of Cheshire, England, ended up in Council Bluffs and died there are the age of 54.
Wilhelm Budde is also buried alone. There are other Buddes buried in other Iowa cemeteries, but Wilhelm is the only one at Fairview.
By contrast, at the back of Fairview Cemetery is a large monument commemorating someone whose life is well documented.
Born in Cornwallis, Nova Scotia, Canada, William Henry Kinsman came to Iowa in 1854 and worked as a lawyer in Council Bluffs until the Civil War broke out in April 1861. After enlisting in the Union Army, he was appointed as major of the 23rd Iowa Volunteer Infantry. By 1862, he’d been promoted to colonel and commander of the regiment.
Col. Kinsman was killed in action near Vicksburg, Miss. during the Vicksburg Campaign while leading his regiment in an assault on Confederate positions along the Black River. The battle, one of a series conducted by General Ulysses S. Grant prior to boxing the Confederate Army in at Vicksburg, was important because it compelled the Confederates to abandon any hope of defeating Grant, forcing them back into the Vicksburg fortifications.
At the urging of his war comrades, Col. Kinsman’s body was removed from the battlefield where he was originally buried and re-interred in Council Bluffs. In 1902, the monument was erected over his grave to honor him and all Union soldiers who lost their lives in the war.
Colonel Kinsman’s monument is definitely impressive and a fitting tribute. But I couldn’t help thinking about the many people buried on that lonely hillside with little beyond their markers. Some broken, some all alone. Some with no markers at all.
As I end my series on Fairview Cemetery, I hope that those who visit the Kinsman monument would also spend some time visiting these seemingly forgotten markers on the hillside to honor those buried there. They were someone’s little girl or boy at one time. Someone’s mother, father, brother or sister.
Their lives mattered just as much.