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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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.
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.