This blog reports events and interesting tidbits from Rensselaer, Indiana and the surrounding area.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Tales from the graveyard

It is the time of the year when people celebrate death in their decorations. Lawns sport skeletons and fake graveyards, and ghosts are everywhere. In the spirit of the season, today's post is about stories that the City's graveyard, aka Weston Cemetery, has to tell. The theme is not horror or fright but one of sadness at lives cut short by accident, disease, or both together. Below is a map showing the locations of the graves we will visit.

Entering the Cemetery from the Abigail Street entrance, we follow the road as it turns west until it again turns to the south. The graves to the right make up Section E and the graves to the left make up Section G. (You did know that most cemeteries are plotted so that each grave has an address, didn't you?) Just before we reach the bend, we walk into Section E looking for the grave of Floyd Rowen whose knee was injured while delivering groceries for his father. The injury did not heal properly but became infected, resulting in his death in 1916. (Click on the names of all the people mentioned in this post for more information about their lives and deaths.)

From the Rowen grave we walk a few steps to the west looking for the large Maines monument. Beyond it to the west is the unmarked grave of Benjamin King. A few days before Halloween in 1916 Mr King went to Rensselaer from a farm north of Parr to deliver hogs and do some chores. When the horses pulled the wagon home, he was unconscious and attempts to revive him were in vain.

We now retrace our steps back toward the entrance and take the road that forms the eastern boundary of the Cemetery, heading toward the river. On our right is Section A, the oldest part of the Cemetery with the earliest graves in the 1840s. As we approach the Iroquois River, we are next to Section B, an old section that contains many pauper graves. One that has a marker is that of Clifford Sumner, a mechanic who died quite suddenly in 1916 from an infection. Like many burials in Section B, little is known about his life or family.

Also in Section B and closer to the road is Daniel Watson, one of many in an unmarked grave. His story is one that occurs several times in this post, where an injury leads to a fatal infection. Watson's injury was the result of being thrown from a wagon in 1929 when his horses spooked. Infection leading to death followed surgery.

Returning to the road, we take the fork that leads up the hill. After just a few steps along this road we are next to the Day plot, a family plot, and in it is Woodrow Day, who died from kidney failure in early 1930 when he was 17 years old.

As we walk up the hill, Section C is on our left and Section D is on our right. The large monuments in Section D indicate that many of the leading citizens of early Rensselaer and Jasper County are buried here. When we reach the road that leads down to the creek, we take it. Section U is on our right and Section G, another section with many large monuments, is on our left. We look for the Leopold monument that is not too far from the road in Section G. In front of it are two reddish markers and one of them is for sixteen-year-old Milton Leopold. The grandson of one of Rensselaer's most prominent merchants, he was a student at Wolcott High School. He died of typhoid fever in 1916. Aren't you glad that antibiotics came into widespread use in the 1940s?

We go down the hill and across the Maxwell Ditch. In front of us are Sections M and N. We turn right and then turn left on the road that separates Section M from Section L. There are three graves along this road we will visit. It was a clear November afternoon in 1934 and there were no obstructions blocking the view of the tracks, but for some reason  Lurratta and Wayne Fleming did not see or hear an approaching train as they crossed the tracks near Fair Oaks. The Flemings are the westernmost grave we visit along this road.
Two rows to the east of the Fleming grave is that of Walter Lutz. He was a teacher at the high school in Marion, Indiana. In 1929 he went to Muncie to take a special three-week course and while there was afflicted with appendicitis. The appendectomy resulted in an infections that caused his death. A little to the east of the Lutz grave and on the other side of the road is the grave of  little ten-year-old Doris Rowley. She died of bronchial pneumonia-mastoid infection with meningitis a decade after the death of Walter Lutz.

The grave of John K Smith in the middle of Section M is harder to find. From the Rowley grave go east one row and then walk south. On the way home in late November of 1922 after making a delivery with his truck, he was hit by a switching train on the Webster Street railroad crossing. He died the next day from his injuries

 Willard Black was electrocuted in 1934 while rewiring a fan at the Harris Creamery. He is buried two rows west of Rowley and several yards to the north. Our next stop is nine rows to the east of the Black grave. Harry Eigelsbach was born Harry Reffelt but took the name of the family that adopted him. In May of 1939 Harry and some friends were returning from the Curtis Creek Country Club. It was dark and the driver misjudged the S curve on Bunkum Road a couple miles west of Rensselaer. The car flipped, injuring all in the car and but only Harry fatally. That S curve on Bunkum Road is known by some as Deadman's Curve and 25 years after Harry Eigelsbach was killed there, two Chicago Bear players lost their lives on this curve. See here and here.

Our final stop has a double dose of sadness. A few weeks after Demi Smith Gratner entered the Rockville Sanitarian in 1939 suffering from throat tuberculosis, she had a baby that died a few hours after birth. Less than two weeks later Demi died. To find her grave, go one row east of the Rowley grave and then go north almost to the road. Her baby was buried at the foot of the grave of William Gratner, who seems to be the grandfather. It is in the south west part of Section N.

This is but a small sample of stories that Weston Cemetery has of those who died too young. For a more diverse range of the stories from Weston Cemetery, visit this virtual tour of the Cemetery. (It is still under development and undergoing changes. Feel free to suggest corrections and additions.)

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