Thursday, November 08, 2007
All are sleeping on the hill ...
My buddy Deb Nicklay ran into a guy a while back whose idea was to craft a book from the lives of those buried in a particular cemetery, a worthy idea --- but it has been done and he’s unlikely to top Edgar Lee Masters’ Spoon River Anthology (fictionalized and in free verse) from whence the line, “all are sleeping on the hill.”
Anyhow, Deb said to this guy, “You’ve got to meet the man whose been in more cemeteries than anyone else on earth,” or so she said --- referring to me: A connoisseur of bone yards.
I’m here to tell you there are cemeteries, good cemeteries and great cemeteries. The site, the ambiance and the occupants combine to equal greatness, and the greats are few and far between.
Examples? I think the Chariton Cemetery is great and that has a good deal to do with site --- on rising slopes north of the Chariton River --- and the fact that it was designed during the early days of the great enthusiasm for cemeteries as expressions of rural paradise. There never seems to be anything to fear here --- remove the graves and replace the tombstones with picnic benches and you’d have a pleasant park: Precisely what was intended.
Other cemeteries, developed out of the urgent need to find a suitable place to bury the dead, sometimes are less successful from an aesthetic point of view.
Still wandering around in Decatur County, I've added the Old Davis City Cemetery to my list of greats, although like Topsy, I think, it just grew. Although small, it is perfectly sited at the edge of a bluff falling away to the Grand River bottoms, ancient oaks shade it, few modern slices-of-granite-toast tombstones intrude and there are some fascinating occupants.
I came here to find John Clark (scroll down a ways and you’ll find more about him and his Davis City Union Church) and found Ignace Hainer, too --- a fascinating bonus.
To visit Davis City cemeteries, drive south on U.S. 65 from Leon and as soon as you cross the Grand River bridge into Davis City, turn right. If you head straight west up the hill, you’ll end up at the newer I.O.O.F. Cemetery, good but not great. If instead, you start following the dead-end streets to the right, all headed toward the Grand River bluffs, you’ll eventually pull up right beside the old cemetery. Although beautifully sited, its originators underestimated death’s sheer volume and allowed it to get hemmed it. That’s why there are two cemeteries in this small town.
John Clark, as Davis City’s first citizen, has pride of place out on the edge of the bluff where his family enclave is enclosed by a recently-restored and highly decorative wrought iron fence. Within are the John Clark Family Vault, miscellaneous family tombstones (including John’s towering obelisk), a wrought iron bench and two remarkable wrought iron confections designed to hold floral offerings --- also recently restored and freshly painted.
The inscription above the sandstone vault’s door reads, “John Clark Family Vault, Erected A.E. 1882,” but there is no indication of who is interred inside. John himself and his wife, Margaret, rest beneath pink granite slabs shadowed by a the monumental gray and pink obelisk just south of the vault.
Ignace Hainer and his daughter, Laura, are buried immediately north of the Clark enclave, their graves marked by a remarkably-shaped granite boulder into which has been sliced mounting slots for two bronze plates, one of which reads, “Ignace Hainer, November 15, 1818, March 26, 1900” and the other, “Laura Hainer Radnich, February 17, 1848, August 9, 1871.” Sadly, Laura reportedly died by her own hand. Ignace, however, lived a long and full life.
To understand how Ignace and his family ended up in southern Iowa, it is necessary to go to Hungary in the mid-19th century, when Lajos (Louis) Kossuth --- after whom North Iowa’s Kossuth County is named --- became the leader of a movement reasserting in Budapest and elsewhere Hungarian independence from Austria. Eventually named regent-president of Hungary, Kossuth’s movement was crushed during 1849 and he and many of his followers were forced into exile. Ignace Hainer was among those forced from their homeland.
A lawyer, scholar and journalist for Kossuth's revolutionary Hungarian newspaper, he also served as an adjutant-general and secretary to Hungarian Premier Lajos Batthyany.
Upon arrival as an exile in the United States, Ignace bought into a dream shared by many fellow exiles --- to develop a new Budapest in the Midwest, in what now is known as New Buda Township, Decatur County --- south of Davis City.
The dream was doomed, however: Most of the exiles were sophisticated and urban; southern Iowa was remote and rural --- and few of the exiles were equipped to support themselves as farmers. The Hainer and Radnich families, along with a few others, persevered, however.
Ignace’s career took some interesting turns, although he always returned to New Buda. Recognized as one of the world’s leading Latin scholars, he served for five years as a professor of modern languages at the University of Missouri at Columbia --- until his abolitionist views cost him his job in a slave state.
He served Decatur County as a teacher, postmaster, county treasurer and preacher and produced a family of productive children, nearly all of whom moved elsewhere. He also returned several times as he grew old to his native Hungary.
Ignace, however, always returned to Decatur County and died there along the road from his New Buda farm into Davis City at age 81, not long after returning home from St. Louis where he had spent the winter with a daughter.
And now, along with daughter Laura and the Clarks, he is sleeping on the hill in Davis City.