Friday, February 03, 2012

Saints & sinners among the Freels

The most distinctive thing about the Freel family lot at Calvary Cemetery is Margaret's tombstone, concrete cast into the form of a tree stump,

Margaret, who succumbed to heart disease at age 35 in 1909, had never married and remained at home to care first for younger siblings and then for her parents --- but she had joined the Woodmen Circle, an auxiliary to the Omaha-based Modern Woodmen of the World, a fraternal insurance and benefits company organized in 1890.

The distinctive tombstone was a membership benefit, free to those who wished one (larger and more elaborate Woodmen tombstones were available at additional cost, but this was the basic model). Although  scattered in cemeteries from coast to cost, they're rare in Lucas County.

The Woodmen, still based in Omaha and with roughly 800,000 members and the 30-story Woodmen Tower for headquarters, discontinued the free tombstone offer during the 1920s as increasing numbers of its members died and the cost accellerated.


Five Freels are buried here, although the graves of Margaret's parents, Dennis and Elizabeth, are no longer marked (most likely the wood or metal crosses placed on their graves deteriorated and were removed and not replaced --- this family vanished from Lucas County nearly a century ago). The graves of her brother, Jimmy, and sister, Mollie, are marked.

Jimmy, James K., a troublesome young man who came to a bad end, was the first to die although it's not clear when his remains were moved here to consecrated ground from the Chariton Cemetery where they had rested for a time in the Stanton Vault.

Jimmy's final predicament came during May of 1898 when he was 28, got into an altercation on the levee and was jailed on charges of assault and attempted murder. The levee was a commercial district parallel to the C B & Q railroad tracks in northwest Chariton, known among other things for bars and bootlegging, that did not have an especially good reputation in polite society.

The Chariton Patriot of May 26, 1898, reported that "Jim Freel and Howard Boone, who were confined to the county jail on the charge of holding up and robbing on the levee some time ago a Mr. Bruffy, succeeded in breaking out Monday night, and as yet have not been recaptured. They escaped by digging through the brick wall of the Jail. Sheriff Manning at once telephoned all towns he could reach in that manner, and dispatched innumerable telegrams and some two-hundred postal cards, describing the men and offering $100 reward for their detention."

Jim's sad end was reported in The Patriot the week following: "James K. Freel, who escaped from the county jail Monday night a week ago, was run over by the south branch train south of St. Joseph, Wednesday, and killed. His remains were brought back to Chariton last Friday night. A short service was held at the Freel home on Saturday morning at 10 o'clock, and the remains were temporarily placed in the vault at the Chariton Cemetery."

His obituary followed a week later:

"James Freel was killed at Fairfield, Kansas, May 26, 1898, by a passenger train, the cars running over him, crushing his body out of alll semblance and form. He was brought home for burial and his body was placed in Stanton's vault where it will rest for the present.

"James was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Dennis Freel, and to those who had formed his intimate acquaintance he was known and well liked as being a kind, true hearted boy, and willing to do for those whatever came in his power.

"It is with sad hearts we record his terrible and untimely death and our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the sorrowing family.

"Those who conveneyed the body to its final resting place were, Thomas Sullivan, Wm. Sullivan, Mike Sexton, Tom McAlloon, of Ottumwa, Frank O'Connor and John Wilson."


Five years later, Jimmy's father, Dennis, died at age 71, at was buried at Calvary, honored with an obituary published in the Herald of Oct. 29, 1903, and containing the sort of detail that gladdens the heart of a genealogist. It reads in part as follows:

"One of the best known men in Southern Iowa departed this life Tuesday evening after a busy career of 71 years and 12 days. Dennis Freel was the oldest son of Dennis Freel, born in Mullingar County, Westmeath, Ireland, October 15, 1832. At the age of 3 years, the deceased came to America. His father was the first on the boat to sight land and the point off the coast of Newfoundland where the boat anchored was named Freel's Cape in honor thereof. The family located in Montreal, Canada, and lived there five years, thence to Chicago for a few months, after which they took up their residence in Joliet, Ill. There, on the 22nd of November, 1854, Mr. Freel married his companion of almost a half century, Miss Elizabeth Coonan. In 1856, they came to Davenport, where Mr. Freel made his headquarters while he labored as a bridge contractor. He built the first bridge across the Mississippi River between Davenport and Rock Island, and was the first man to cross the same. Later he constructed the first bridge across the Des Moines River between Burlington and Des Moines, at Eddyville. In 1861, he entered the employ of the C.B.&Q., first as baggage man, then promoted to the position of conductor. In 1875, Mr. Freel ran the first train over the Albia and Des Moines branch. In 1879, the family came to Chariton, where they have ever since been esteemed citizens and where, until 1896, Mr. Freel served the company's best interests as road master for 17 years and in his office many prominent railroad men of today learned the first lessons in their chosen vocation.

"For the past seven years, Mr. Freel had a conductor's run on the south branch passenger train, until sickness overcame him during the latter part of this summer ...."

Later on, the obituary notes that Dennis was "the seventh Dennis Freel, it being the family custom for eight generations to give the first-born son his father's name, and all have been of a mechanical turn of mind."

Priests from Muscatine, Oskaloosa and Melrose were called upon to officiate at the funeral Mass, held at St. Mary's Church (now Sacred Heart) prior to burial in Calvary Cemetery.

There had been eight Freel children, but both James and another son had predeceased their father,  The survivors, in 1903, were Edward of Memphis, Tenn., Dennis of Dunsmuir, California (who would be killed in a railroading accident during 1906), Abbie Snyder of Staples, Minn., Rose Muehe, also of Dunsmuir, Calif., and the Misses Margaret and Mollie, of Chariton.

The deceased, his obituary concludes, "was possessed of unusual intelligence ... and was the inventor of many conveniences in mechanics, and a tie plate and ditching machine originated by him are now in use on the Burlington road, constant reminders of the skill and industry of a well spent and useful life.


Elizabeth Freel outlived her husband by 10 years, dying in 1913, which left Mollie as the last family member in the family home in west Chariton.

Mollie was born in Eddyville on Aug. 1, 1863, and came to Chariton with her family during 1879, graduating from Chariton High School with the class of 1883, then taught in country schools for five years.

In 1888, when the new Franklin School in northwest Chariton was completed, N.B. Gardner, then president of the school board, asked her to teach the primary class there and she continued to teach at Franklin for 27 years, until becoming suddently ill three weeks prior to her death on March 24, 1918. 

"She loved the little children," according to her obituary, "and her greatest happiness came in caring for them and molding and shaping their lives so that they might become useful and good citizens."

"She was a woman of strong character," the obituary continues, "unselfish and sacrificing in her labors for her family and friends, and never lost an opportunity to brighten the lives of those with whom she came in contact. Being of a happy disposition, she was most delightful company, and loved to lighten the burdens and hearts of everyone about her."

Mollie also was a charter member of Chariton's P.E.O. chapter, established in February of 1887.

Mollie's funeral Mass was held, too, at St. Mary's with school Supt. I.L. Guernsey and Principal P.K. Williamson as chief pall bearers, assisted by Simon Oppenheimer, John Kenney, William Lyons and Mike Halpin.

Friends collected the money to erect her tombstone at Calvary, directing that the line "A tribute of love by friends" be inscribed upon it. 

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