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each week and be added to the archives.
The Articles started December 2007.
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A cemetery holds lots of life stories
By Barry Schrader.................................May
It seems appropriate on the day after Memorial Day to write
about cemeteries, since many of us spent time placing flowers
or artificial arrangements on the graves of loved ones over the
past few days.
I noticed some families brought grass clippers, watering cans
or even scrub brushes to clean the surface of the stones that
sometime accumulate moss, bird droppings or other debris during
DeKalb historian Steve Bigolin recently conducted a guided tour
of one of the older cemeteries in the city Oakwood, founded
in 1865 and still an active burial site for local families. It
is located behind the First Congregational United Church of Christ
on North First Street, not readily visible to people driving
along that road. The oldest cemetery still in existence in DeKalb
is Evergreen, begun in 1855, at the corner of Taylor and South
Seventh streets. Both burial grounds were taken over by the township
around 1997, according to Bigolin.
He made the
two-hour walking tour lively and interesting with anecdotes about
the families and their connections to DeKalb business and well-known
pioneers while reciting birth and death statistics as well. We
learned there was a third cemetery at Pleasant and North 10th
streets that opened in 1869, but has been pretty much abandoned
over the years. A developer convinced the city council in 1952
to declare it vacated if he would employ an undertaker to move
the remains and markers to Oakwood. Then he built houses on the
Steve Bigolin looks over the gravestone of Henry H. Wagner,
one of the Civil War soldiers buried at Oakwood Cemetery. Second
photo shows marker of Henry Gurler, the oldest Civil War vet
in DeKalb County when he died in 1940.
Schrader - Daily Chronicle)
But the DeKalb County Genealogical Society (now known as the
DeKalb County Historical- Genealogical Society) compiled records
from the old cemetery and found that 14 caskets or remains never
got moved to Oakwood. I wont speculate on which homes might
be located on those 14 burial sites, as it might affect housing
values around 10th and Pleasant.
Bigolin told us about the famous cellist, Madam Raya Garbousova,
a native of Russia, who was married to a Dr. Biss. She was a
friend of Albert Einstein, who sometimes played his violin in
private sessions with her. He came to many of her concerts and
always placed a basket of chocolates at the foot of the stage
for her. She died in 1997 and was buried at Oakwood.
Among well-known families graves on the tour are the Marsh
brothers, William and Charles, of Marsh Harvestor fame. Also
buried there are Henry and George Wagner, who both fought in
the Civil War. George was the oldest Civil War veteran in the
county when he died in 1940, 75 years after the end of the war.
His brother, Henry, went into the dry goods business in DeKalb,
with a store that lasted 110 years. He had hired a young man
named Mike Malone and in 1919 sold the store to him, which became
Malones Department Store, a familiar fixture on Lincoln
Highway for generations of shoppers.
The story of Lewis McEwens death was a sad commentary on
our harsh winters. It seems he owned a farm southwest of DeKalb
and often took the Great Western train to a spot near the farm
and would hop off and walk the rest of the way home. One stormy
winter day in 1905, he tried reaching his farm on foot and was
found frozen to death the next day from exposure to the elements.
There is also a Hopkins family plot. Dr. Rufus Hopkins, who originally
sold the five acres for $175 to start the cemetery, is not buried
there but his mother and brothers are. His nephew, Jacob, donated
the land where Hopkins Park is now located on Route 23.
An unusual stone that resembles a small tree trunk marks the
grave site of 10-year-old Bernie Flinn. Atop the trunk is a straw
hat carved in stone and the inscription below reads: Is
Bernie waiting for us?
Back in the southwest corner is a family plot once owned by Joseph
F. Glidden, inventor of barbed wire. But his widow decided to
purchase lots at Fairview Cemetery, located on South First Street,
so the plot was sold to another family, now buried there. There
are many more stories, but to hear them in person you may want
to sign up for the planned fall walking tour.
Bigolin referred to an article in a past issue of Victorian Homes
magazine which told about the 19th century tradition of holding
family picnics and Sunday gatherings near a loved ones
grave. This was considered part of the mourning process, since
so many people died of disease and epidemics in those times.
Some even bought family plots in advance and visited them regularly
in their Sunday best, bringing along a picnic lunch. For many,
it was an all-day journey as many cemeteries were located miles
from town and in the horse and buggy era, it took most of a day
to make the round trip.
Bigolins long-standing involvement in local history landed
him a job last year when the township employed him to help locate,
document and photograph individual grave sites and markers. He
has already taken 512 digital photos to accompany his written
descriptions and said there are some 500 more to be done. Then
he faces the same task all over again at Evergreen Cemetery.
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PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115