You cannot talk about Iowa cemeteries without mentioning white bronze markers. They’re actually zinc but they were marketed as “white bronze” at the time to make them sound grander. You can get a refresher here in my post about Council Bluff’s Fairview Cemetery (which has several white bronze markers). The parents company, Monumental Bronze Company, was in Bridgeport, Conn. but had subsidiaries in other cities, too.
To get a white bronze marker, you usually placed an order with a salesman who had a catalog you could look at. The marker would be shipped to you in pieces that were held together by screws often grounded in a concrete base. As a result, they were hollow inside. Knock on one and you can here the metallic ring. Some were very small like the one below but others were quite grand.
White bronze is important to Iowa because Des Moines was home to the Western White Bronze Co. as one of Monumental Bronze’s subsidiaries, along with Chicago and Detroit. The Des Moines factory opened in 1886 and closed in 1908. In 1914, the government took over the plant to manufacture munitions during World War. I was pleased to see several white bronze monuments/markers at Woodland.
This marker is a nice example of a small white bronze while exhibiting a seal of a fraternal organization I’d never heard of. A native of Iowa, William S. Clark was a bricklayer/mason. He married Emma J. Sutton in 1878 and they had one daughter, Eva.
Prominently displayed on Clark’s marker is the seal of the Improved Order of Red Men (IORM). The TOTE stands for “Totem of the Eagle”. This fraternal organization traces its origin to certain secret patriotic societies founded before the American Revolution. They were established to promote liberty and defy the tyranny of the English Crown. Among the early groups were: The Sons of Liberty, the Sons of St. Tammany, and later the Society of Red Men. Originally called the Society of Red Men, the IORM traces its origins back to 1765. In 1834, they changed it to the Improved Order of Red Men.
IORM rituals and regalia are modeled after those used by Native Americans. The organization claimed a membership of about half a million in 1935, but has declined to less than 38,000. The ultimate irony is that the IORM did not allow any non-white members to join until 1974 and it’s doubtful any Native Americans have ever done so.
This small marker for Christina Wilhelmine Bacon is rather plain on the front.
But it has the image of a figure pointing Heavenward on the other side.
Herman and Julius Bleckmann’s monument is the most common type of white bronze I usually see. The broken chain can signify breaking the chain of death or the end of life. Born in Germany in 1852, Herman came to America with his parents Julius and Lisette Bleckmann as a child, and worked as a baker.
There’s something about the Bleckmann monument that puzzled me at first. I took a look on the base to see where it came from and was surprised to see this.
If Des Moines residents had access to white bronze monuments in their own city where a factory produced them, why did this family get one from far-away Michigan? Then I realized that Herman Bleckmann died in 1882. The Des Moines factory didn’t open until 1886, four years after his death. So it makes sense that it came from Detroit after all.
Julius, Herman’s father, whose name is also on the monument, died in 1879. It’s possible the monument was made for him first and Herman’s name was added later but I don’t know.
Herman’s life was abruptly cut short, I did discover. He and a friend, George Crane, were celebrating the Fourth of July when something went wrong. At Herman’s front gate, George Crane allegedly shot Herman and he died. Although Crane was arrested and went to trial, he was acquitted. Herman was only 30 and I found no evidence that he ever married.
This large white bronze was for Samuel Van Cleve and two of his children. A native of Pennsylvania, he married Ruth L. Cook (daughter of a Baptist minister) in Ohio in 1850. They moved to Iowa in 1855 and had three children. Two died in infancy that are listed on the marker (William and Lillie) but their daughter, Marie Louisa, lived to adulthood and married David (or Daniel on some census records) Bringolf.
Samuel had a number of jobs in public works, most notably as superintendent of the water department and later as an assessor for the city. Samuel died in 1886 at the age of 61. Thanks to Ancestry.com, I was able to pull up his voluminous will.
To my surprise, I found that Samuel owned stock in the Western White Bronze Co. From what I can tell, Ruth sold it after he died. The paperwork even included the bills for his casket ($125) and for the white bronze monument that you see above, which cost $465 at the time. You can also see a picture of the receipt for the monument, which she paid in 1888. If you adjust for inflation, the monument cost around $13,000. That’s not cheap!
Ruth lived with her daughter and her family in Des Moines after Samuel died. At some point after the turn of the century, the Bringolfs moved to Texas. Ruth died in 1910 and is buried in Myrtle Cemetery in Rock Hill, Texas. She was 93.
There’s another white bronze at Woodland worth mentioning because it is not the usual gray/blue color. It has a silver color and a decidedly militaristic flavor.
Born in 1834 to Samuel and Mary Myers Orwig in Pennsylvania, Thomas Gilbert Orwig was a patent lawyer and Civil War veteran. There is little information on him prior to the Civil War. He owned and operated the Union County Star with his brother Reuben, which they sold after a year of ownership.
On June 20, 1861, Orwig mustered into service with the 43rd Regiment, First Artillery, Battery E as a first lieutenant. In 1862, he was promoted to captain, and, in this capacity, served in the peninsular campaign and in the Army of the James. After a three-year term, Orwig resigned with his regiment on September 21, 1864.
He married Mary E. Sipp in Middletown, N.Y. in February 1864. They lived together in Yorktown until the end of his service. They had two children — Mabel, who was adopted, and Mary Gilberta Orwig born Feb. 24, 1865 and died January 26, 1867.
After the Civil War, the Orwigs moved to Des Moines and opened a patent office. I found a patent of his online (he had several) for a type of barbed wire that would prevent animal injury. Thomas also established a newspaper in Iowa known as The Industrial Motor in 1872, which was mainly devoted to mechanics, patent rights, and new inventions.
Mary Orwig died on March 10, 1907 at the age of 67. One fact you can glean from the Orwig’s joint monument is that she was blind for 20 years of her life. I am guessing the monument was made when she died and that the information about Thomas was put on it at that time. His date of death is not on the monument anywhere but records confirm he died in 1910.
The last two monuments I wanted to mention are not white bronze but still stood out to me. The monument for the Rev. Ira Kenney is in the shape of a pulpit with a Bible on the top. A native of Truxton, N.Y., he was a graduate of Madison University and ordained the same year he graduated, 1849. He also married Mary E. Smith in the same year. I’m not sure when they moved to Iowa.
The Rev. Kennedy pastored several Baptist churches over the years. He also served as president of what was then known as the Des Moines University in the 1880s, which ultimately closed in 1929. The Rev. Kenney died in 1899.
Finally, let’s talk about Landon Hamilton’s imposing monument. It’s one of the tallest in the cemetery and features the deceased’s face.
Born in Virginia in 1816, Landon Hamilton was described as “the dead recluse” by the Des Moines Register in an article written about him. His friend, Judge William Phillips, was one of the few who knew him well but wasn’t sure how Hamilton came to be in Iowa. Hamilton’s love of nature took the place of any family he might have had, he never married or had children. He earned his living by hunting and trapping.
In later years, Hamilton catalogued his wide range of specimens, from animals to birds to fish to insects. When he died at the age of 81, his will instructed that his home and massive collection be left to the public for their enjoyment. Some articles claimed the state was going to do something with it, but it may very well have been auctioned off.
Hamilton also made specific plans for his monument at Woodland long before his death, down to the portrait etched on it. For a man who wasn’t known to enjoy mixing with people very much, he seemed to want to be remembered by them.
That brings my visit to Woodland Cemetery to an end. I’ll be moving on to other Iowa cemeteries in the weeks to come, but this one was definitely memorable.