Thursday, July 14, 2016

Harry Hanlin's complicated route to the grave

"Homecomings" was the title of 2013's annual cemetery heritage tour, sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. It featured four residents of the Chariton Cemetery whose remains had been moved from one location to another --- ranging from a World War I soldier whose body was repatriated from France after the war to a gentleman brought into town when a rural cemetery was destroyed. Then there was Maggie Corbett, whose remains were returned upon recovery to the grave they had been stolen from in the first place.

But so far as I know, Harry Hanlin --- 24 when he died during 1896 --- is the only person now at rest in the cemetery whose body was interred first as an "unknown" in another state because authorities couldn't identify him, then disinterred and identified and finally brought home to his family in Chariton for burial.  The fact that he was wearing a Knights of Pythias insignia when he died proved to be the key.

Here's the story as reported in The Chariton Democrat of Aug. 14, 1896:


The sad intelligence reached this city on Tuesday last of the death by drowning of Mr. Harry Hanlin of St. Joseph, Missouri. The circumstances surrounding the death of this young man will perhaps always be shrouded in mystery, but as near as we have been able to learn them the facts are about as follows:

The deceased was employed as cashier by the Adams Express Co. at St. Joseph and was last seen by the employees of the office about 6 p.m. on Thursday when he said he was going for a walk and started up the track toward the water works, which is quite a resort. There is a K.C.&C.B. train which leaves the Union depot about that time and has until recently stopped at the waterworks, and it is supposed that he got on this train, intending to get off at the waterworks, and upon finding that it did not stop there, attempted to get off while the train was in motion, fell and was stunned, and rolled down the embankment into the river, as the track for some distance is built right at the edge of a high bank and as he fell he probably rolled into the river. The swift current at this point carried the body down to within a mile of Wathena, where it was found four days later.

A coroner and jury were summoned from Wathena, and upon investigation rendered a verdict of "unknown person, accidental drowning," and the body was buried at the expense of the city.

Upon the lapel of the coat, however, was an emblem of the Knights of Pythias. This attracted the attention of a spectator, also a K.P. member, who at once notified the K.P. lodge at St. Joe, which immediately sent an undertaker to the Wathena cemetery to exhume the remains for investigation. Then it was found from marks upon the clothing that the body was that of Harry Hanlin, a member of Juanita Lodge No. 171, Knights of Pythias, of St. Joe, Mo. The lodge notified the relatives here and had the remains enclosed in a metalic casket and forwarded them in charge of Mr. Chas. Roller to this city.

The funeral was taken in charge by the K.P. lodge of this city, services being held at the residence of the parents of the deceased, on Wednesday, Aug. 12, 1896, and conducted by Rev. Collins, of the M.E. church.

The deceased was well known in this city, having been raised here from childhood. He is spokent of by his intimate friends as a most exemplary young man and his untimely and tragic death has cast a gloom over the community. His associates in the express office at St. Joe speak of him in the highest terms, and his fellow knights in the Pythian lodge only knew him as a genial and whole-souled brother and a tried and trusted friend.


Travel between St. Joe and Chariton was a simple matter during 1890s on the C.B.&Q. line that then followed the path of what now is the Cinder Path southwest out of town and newspaper reports suggest that Harry had visited his family often after going to work in Missouri.

He also was a member of the Chariton Band, which so long as it existed made a point of decorating his grave when its members marched to the cemetery with the Chariton Volunteer Fire Department on Memorial Day.

Harry's father, John, a farmer and educator who served as Lucas County superintendent of schools for some years, died in 1918 and was buried beside his son. His mother, Mina (Jolly) Hanlin, died during 1926.

Harry had one sister, Nellie, who did not marry and taught for many years at Alma Clay School in Chariton. She moved to Coral Gables, Florida, during the late 1930s and died and was buried there during 1954 at the age of 75. 

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