Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Tale of two tombstones

The bodies of Rene and Mary Ellen Julien, as well as their tombstone, were brought to the Chariton Cemetery in 1936 from Watson Cemetery, destroyed by the C.B.&Q. Railroad while reworking its line up the White Breast hill.

This is the sort of exercise that only an obsessive-compulsive person interested in local history and/or genealogy would engage in, but it kept  me entertained for a while Monday morning. And thanks to our outstanding city clerk, Ruth Ryun, for aiding and abetting me.

After posting Ellen Berry Badger's memoir yesterday morning and a stop later, during my walk in the Chariton Cemetery, at the Julien lot --- where several of the people mentioned in the memoir are buried --- I got to wondering just how many people named on tombstones there actually were buried on the lot, when they arrived (if in fact they did) and where they came from.

Four of the people named on tombstones, Rene Julien, Mary Ellen Julien, Sarah E. Julien and an infant son of Isaac and Lucretia Julien, died before the Chariton Cemetery was founded during 1863, meaning they had been and in some cases perhaps still were buried elsewhere. Isaac and Lucretia Julien and their son, Stephen, all died after the cemetery had begun operations.

So I went up to City Hall, where comprehensive records are maintained, and Ruth took me into the vault to have a look.

She pulled the lot book out of the safe first --- its entries track lot ownership and also contain drawings of each lot that locate the position of the remains of those buried therein. That entry showed that Lucretia Julien purchased the Julien lot at the time of the death of her husband, Isaac, on Jan. 21, 1865, and buried him there; that she had buried their son, Stephen, age 21, on the lot when he died during 1883; and that she herself had been buried between her husband son when she died during 1890. Only two other coffins, those of Rene (died 1861) and Mary Ellen (died 1862) Julien had been buried on the lot, a short distance north of Isaac, Lucretia and Stephen.

I already knew, because it's mentioned in Ellen's memoir, that the infant son --- who died during July of 1854 --- had been taken for burial to Douglass Cemetery, just southeast of Chariton. At the time that was the only cemetery in the vicinity. The lot map proves that the infant's body had not been moved into the Chariton Cemetery although there is a memorial inscription on the Julien tombstone, so it remains in Douglass Cemetery. Nor had the body of Sarah, also memorialized on the tombstone, been moved from its still unknown location.

The family tombstone (left) appears to have been put into place by Lucretia after Stephen died during 1883 --- elaborate matching inscriptions for Isaac, Stephen, the infant and Sarah are found on its four faces. Parts of Stephen's and Sarah's inscriptions are now, more than 100 years later, undecipherable. After Lucretia's 1890 death, her name was added much more simply at the top of the stone's west face, as were the names of Rene (south face) and Mary Ellen (east face).

Up until this point, I had assumed that the infant, Sarah, Mary Ellen and Rene all had been buried in the Douglass Cemetery and that family at some point had moved the remains of Rene and Mary Ellen, as well as their joint tombstone, into the Chariton Cemetery.

Ruth next pulled out one of the interment books. These big volumes contain detailed information --- when available --- about each person buried in the cemetery, including date of burial and, if a reburial, a body's original location.

The entries for Rene and Mary Ellen surprised me --- as it turns out their bodies and their tombstone had been brought into Chariton from a cemetery in White Breast Township west of Chariton sometimes called Watson on April 24, 1936, by the C.B.&Q. railroad along with another set of identified remains and the remains of 11 unidentified people. This cemetery was located west of Chariton near the crest of the White Breast hill.

Original burial in Watson actually makes a good deal of sense --- the extended Julien family was living near it at the time Rene and Mary Ellen died. That possibility just hadn't occurred to me.

Watson Cemetery has been almost entirely forgotten. Although people who lived near it knew about it, it never has been listed among Lucas County's burial places --- nor are there surviving memories of anyone buried in it.

It's existence first came to light in recent times a couple of years ago when Darlene Arnold, transcribing some very badly damaged audio tapes in the Lucas County Historical Society collection, heard tantalizing but largely undecipherable references in an interview with neighborhood resident Grover Dale to "Indians," "1939" and "Watson Cemetery."

The next day, the late Mary Louse Reeves --- then entering Chariton Cemetery records into a database ---  come across the same entries Ruth and I did Monday morning, recording the reburial of 14 bodies, three identified, brought in from White Breast Township by the C.B.&Q. As it turned out, Mary Louise's mother, Mary Ellen, had grown up near the cemetery --- and also remembered it.

The rest of the story involves reworking during the mid-1930s by the C.B.&Q. of its tracks on the White Breast Hill as it ascends from the creek valley east of Lucas --- said by some to be the steepest grade on this main line between the Mississippi River and Denver. Reconstruction of tracks and redevelopment of the grade destroyed the old cemetery. Obtaining permission to do this today would be problematic; in the 1930s, it seems not to have been a major issue. The railroad disintered such remains as could be found, reboxed them and brought them into Chariton --- reportedly on a flat car --- for reburial.

The unidentified remains were buried under small stones inscribed "unknown" in the far northwest part of the Chariton Cemetery. Rene, Mary Ellen and their stone were placed in the Julien lot.

So now I know more than I probably need to know about where the bodies are buried --- but the original location of little Sarah's burial remains a mystery. Perhaps she rests at Douglass near her infant brother; or perhaps she was among the unidenfiable at Waston. Who knows?

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