Monday, December 31, 2012

Tombs with a View II: Stoneking


Nearly everyone is related at Stoneking Cemetery, back in hills bordering the Cedar Creek valley's south side in Pleasant Township --- one reason why it has at least three names: Stoneking, for the founding family; Stoneking-Darrah, because it is home ground for both of these related families; and Oak Hill because of its location atop a hill crowned by oaks.


The views here are not as dramatic as those at the Newbern Cemetery, several miles west above the White Breast, but it is a lovely, peaceful place --- most of the time.

Circumstances have led to disturbances now and then, related primarily to its remote location.  It became a popular late-night party location some years ago, has sustained considerable vandalism and also has fired the imaginations of fairly dim people who declare it haunted. You can find "haunted places" blather about Stoneking elsewhere on the Web, but its hard to imagine a less haunted place when actually standing up here and looking around.

Although family associations are strong here, this is a public cemetery maintained by the Pleasant Township trustees. If you're in the market for a tomb with a view, burial plots are available.



The legendary mine and mining town, both called Tiperrary, are a couple of miles due west of Stoneking's hilltop; and the road out here from Williamson will take you past the site of Big Ben, the last of Lucas County's coal mines to close. To get here, take the side road turning south just before the curve down in Coal Glen, then cross the Cedar and twist sharply up the big hill.

The approach used to be a little more interesting. The original rickety Iron bridge got to be a little too rickety for heavier vehicles several years ago, so was supplemented by a Missouri crossing that plunged into and then arose from the creek bed, presenting an option (until the bridge was closed entirely). I usually opted for that crossing, figuring it was better to drive through the creek than come crashing down into it. That also was a good way to scare visitors to southern Iowa not familiar with Missouri crossings. But by now, the remains of both the old bridge and the crossing have been swept away and a new bridge installed. Practical, but boring. I'm sure anyone needing to maneuver heavy equipment --- or a hearse --- in and out appreciate it, however.


Beyond the cemetery, where the graveled surface ends, a "level B" minimum-maintenance road meanders off into the Cedar Creek Unit of Stephens State Forest. There's lots to see back in there, but not when its muddy.


Quite a bit has been done recently at Stoneking --- a new gateway, new fences and this sign (below), apparently favored for target practice by local sportsmen. These guys shoot at tombstones, too, sometimes.


The patriarch of the Stoneking family, Adam, who died March 19, 1865, at the age of 51, was among the first to be buried here. His tombstone has fallen, or been knocked, flat on its back.


 But the patriarch of the cemetery is Joseph Park --- father of Adam Stoneking's wife, Sarah --- who died Nov. 23, 1882, at the age of 86.


Delilah Stoneking, daughter of Adam and Sarah, married Soloman Darrah, which is the principal family connection between all of the Stonekings and Darrahs buried here.


One of the most interesting tombstones is shared by Adam's and Sarah's son, Joseph Stoneking, and his wife, Lucinda. The verse carved onto is is an old favorite that appears on countless tombstones from coast to coast, but rarely on one this recent:


Dear children as you pass by,
as you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so soon you'll be.
Prepare for death and follow me.

This harmless reminder of our mortality seems to be one of the factors leading to poor Stoneking's haunted reputation. Some with limited intelligence have interpreted this as a curse.

But Meg's Larry told the other day what now is my favorite Stoneking story as we were sitting around talking about the cemetery. Larry knew a former deputy sheriff who, during a period of intense partying and general mischief near Stoneking years ago, was dispatched late at night to see if he could nab any of the youthful perpetrators.

He pulled into the driveway north of the cemetery, drove around behind some of the trees (since removed) that once surrounded it, and parked to wait, but no mischief-makers showed up.

Eventually, the deputy nodded off. Awaking as the sun rose, he discovered that he had parked in a patch of morel musrooms. So he gathered as many as he could carry --- and drove home. That's about as haunted as Stoneking gets.

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