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

Monday, October 8, 2018

Pictures from the cemetery walk

I did not get any pictures of Memories Alive at Weston Cemetery, the cemetery walk held September 22, but my son did. The event assembled at the Gifford Shelter at Brookside Park. Parking was a problem because the start overlapped a soccer game and there were a lot of parents at the soccer game. The roughly 150 people attending formed into eight groups, each with a guide, and set off for the the eight stations of the tour.
 The Historical Society rented five or six golf carts for those who might have trouble with the walk from the park to the cemetery. The golf carts were much appreciated but were also the most expensive item in the budget.
 The group my son was with started at the grave of Margaret Paulus. She was the daughter of William Babcock (1862-1930) who overcame two spectacular elevator fires and a partner who embezzled to build an elevator business that may have been the largest of its kind in Indiana. He owned grain elevators at Rensselaer, Pleasant Ridge, Parr, Virgie, Fair Oaks, and Roselawn. Jasper County Farm Bureau purchased the elevators in 1945. Margaret's passion was genealogy. She published her findings in several books and also compiled the first list of war veterans buried in Jasper County cemeteries.
 Next was George Spitler, who in 1834 traveled to Indiana with his father looking for land. In 1835 he returned to a site south of Brook where he erected a cabin. A few years later that cabin hosted the first court in the County. In 1841 George moved his family to a site just south of Rensselaer. He was the first school teacher in Rensselaer and served several terms as county clerk. George was killed by lightning in 1863. In 1867 the family sold his farm of 933 acres to the Diocese of Fort Wayne to be used as an orphanage That land later became the campus of Saint Joseph's College. You can buy some of that land at an auction later this month.
 The next station was at the marker that commemorates the Poor Farm. It overlooks county or pauper burials, many of whom died at the Poor Farm. Before the establishment of Social Security and other social welfare programs, county poor farms provided the safety net for adults who were unable to care for themselves. Residents of these farms were expected to do whatever work they could to make the farms self sufficient. The Jasper County Farm closed in the early 1970s.
 The Makeever monument may be the most impressive in Weston Cemetery. Mary Makeever told the story of her husband John (1819-1910) who came to Jasper County in 1845. When he died in 1910, he was reputed to be the richest man in the County, with a net worth of half a million dollars. He built the Makeever Hotel, a three story structure that was demolished in 1962. It stood where the CVS parking lot is today. The hotel not only served travelers but also had permanent residents.
In the distance you can see another group gathered to hear about David Nowells. Of the four people who first settled in what is now Rensselaer, only David Nowels is buried in Weston Cemetery. His father John is buried in the Yeoman Cemetery and his sister Sarah and her husband Joseph Yeoman are buried in Old Settlers Cemetery.

David was only 13 when he arrived at the Falls of the Iroquois in 1834. He recalled playing with Indian boys because there were no white children in the area. His early life of privation was followed by an adulthood of prosperity as he acquired significant land holdings. His descendants continue to farm land that he owned.

Between Makeever and Nowells was banker, land speculator, broker, insurance executive, and silent film actor Jay Dwiggins. This blog has had a couple posts about him, here and here.
 The youngest decedent highlighted was James Dean McFall who drowned in 1946 while swimming in the Babcock Quarry. His tragic death spurred the citizens of Rensselaer to raise the funds to build a swimming pool in Brookside Park to prevent future deaths like that of Jimmy's.
 A grave marker that has no burial is called a cenotaph and an example is the marker for Thomas Kenton Parkison, lost at sea off the west Coast of Australia in World War Two. He was on an escort ship that ran aground on a reef during a storm. The details of his death are told in the book Splinter Fleet: The Wooden Subchasers of World War II.

The weather was great for the event, not like the weather this past Saturday that the SJC Homecoming endured. The comments from those who went on the event were enthusiastically positive. Planning for next September's cemetery tour is already underway. It is scheduled for the third Saturday of the September, with a rain date the following Saturday. (One will not always get the ideal weather that the event had this year.)

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