Sunday, October 23, 2011

You treat me like a stepchild ...

I've never understood why the Bethlehem Cemetery is not as well-loved as its well-groomed and more popular graveyard siblings in Wayne County's Union and Wright townships, New York and Confidence. What's the deal here? Even Morgan Parr, the Campbellite preacher to whom Bethlehem is sometimes attributed, was buried at New York when he died in 1867.

I got so involved in thinking about that apparent affectional disparity Friday, I failed my Mason cousins by neglecting to photograph all their tombstones here. I did take a shot of Hiram, their great-great-grandfather, now reposing at something of an angle, but neglected his wife, Jane, and the rest. I'll have to go back.

The usual date of origin for Bethlehem, the village that once thrived modestly at the crossroads just to the north, is 1852 (platted 1853), which makes it I think one of Wayne County's oldest places. In addition to the Parrs, a distant cousin of mine, Dr. John Boswell, practiced here in the very early days before moving into Corydon, then heading out for the Pacific Northwest. He and my great-great-grandfather, Peachy Gilmer Boswell, were among the founders of Corydon's First Methodist Church, a fact that mildly aggravated a branch of the family that later turned from the Wesleyan light and became Baptist.

Not that Bethlehem isn't cared about. It's gateway arch, almost folk art created from what was at hand, is relatively recent, although leaning; the gates within it much newer, the grass is neatly clipped and the galvanized-pipe railing/fence freshly painted.

There are far more graves here than appear when the grounds are viewed from the gate. Walk among the standing stones and you'll discover rows of tablet stones dating from the 1850s onward that have fallen onto their backs and now are partly buried.

I walked out to the northwest corner to visit Belle McMurry, who I remember in her four-square, then-pink house just west of Bethlehem. WHO-TV used to talk with Belle on Christmas Eve --- among the few Iowans then living at Bethlehem on that significant date.

Walking back, I noticed the Kastners and got to wondering if or how they were related to the Kastners I remember.

And thinking back to play day at the Bethlehem school --- that was an annual (I think) occasion when scholars from several neighboring rural school districts, including Dry Flat, gathered at one or the other to, well, just play.

My dad used to talk about stopping at one of the Bethlehem stores, when there were stores in Bethlehem, to buy the makings of picnic meals when riding along horses-and-wagon with his dad and uncles toward the little coal mines east of Sunny Slope church to lay in a winter's store.

The most notable features at Bethlehem now are the huge Rathbun Rural Water System tower, Bethelehm Chapel (crafted from recycled remains of the Bethlehem Methodist Church I think), a newer home, a trailer house and a derelict trailer dragged here for some unknown reason. Nearly everything else is gone. I think I've been told that the Dry Flat bell hangs in Bethlehem Chapel. I'm going to have to drive by again, see if that's true and maybe try to ring it.

1 comment:

Wanda Horn said...

You've done it again, Frank -- you've sent me spinning off down Memory Lane! When my sister was born (August, 1940, when I was 5 years old), we lived just west of Bethlehem, just west of "Miss Belle's" house. The place where we lived was also owned by a McMurry (Lewis, I think), but he didn't live in the community. There are no buildings left at our former home; I can recognize it only by the bend of the road. I started kindergarten at New York school that fall, and rode to and from school with Miss Belle -- then Hayhurst and later McMurry. She must have been a terrific teacher because I learned to read by about the second month of kindergarten.

You also mentioned the coal mines east of Sunny Slope Church. My great-grandfather, Lewis Frye, owned some small mines there. For years we could see indentations in the earth where the mines once were; but when I tried to find them to show to my sister last summer, the overgrowth was too heavy. The Frye family and a family named Barrell both lived on that same road at the time my grandparents, Elmer Frye and Alice Barrell, were courting. My dad also told of trips to the mines, with horse and wagon, to stock up on coal for the family.

I don't think we have anyone at the Bethlehem Cemetery, but we do have a lot of family in the Confidence Cemetery. Great-grandpa Lewis Frye is in the old section with his three wives (consecutive, not concurrent): Mary Hayhurst, Augusta Heckathorn (my great-grandmother), and Laura Green. There are also some of the Barrell and Bennett family down near the fence on the west side of the old section.

Thanks for giving me another one of your wonderful tours of my past!