This is the first of five posts planned for the next couple of weeks that will consist largely of scripts used by performers during the 13th annual Chariton Cemetery Heritage Tour, "Stories from Potter's Field," held on Sunday and sponsored by the Chariton Historic Preservation Commission. Mandi Hunter, portrayed Gertrude Aughey Stanton, the narrator, who introduced herself, provided cemetery history and then introduced William Hallensleben, portrayed by Mike Graves, as well as five others as the program continued.
Ladies and gentlemen, I am pleased to represent the Stanton family in welcoming you to the Chariton Cemetery, “our” cemetery until 1924 when these these beautiful acres were sold to the city for $10,000.
My name is Gertrude Aughey Stanton and I was the last Stanton family member to own and operate the cemetery as a private business --- from 1922 when my husband, Dr. John H. Stanton, died unexpectedly at the age of 60, until 1924, when my daughters and I sold it to the city of Chariton.
My father was the Rev. John H. Aughey, called to serve Chariton’s First Presbyterian Church in December of 1886. I was 19 when we arrived in Chariton and 21 when Father accepted a call to serve a Pennsylvania congregation and we moved there, then west to pastorates in Oklahoma and Kansas. But I formed an enduring friendship with John Stanton, a physician son of Dr. James Eddington Stanton, and during 1894 I returned to Chariton to marry him.
As some of you may know, my father-in-law, Dr. J.E. Stanton, and 19 other prominent men of Chariton organized the Chariton Cemetery Co. during June of 1864, dividing 60 shares of stock priced at $20 each among themselves, and with the proceeds purchased the 80 acres here from which the current cemetery of about 60 acres has been formed. The new cemetery replaced what now is known as Douglass Pioneer Cemetery and a smaller graveyard, once located on the site of Columbus School.
The original plat consisted only of the long and relatively narrow strips on either side of the main driveway that still stretches west from the front gate.
At that time, nearly every cemetery had what was known informally as a “Potter’s Field,” an area, sometimes in small cemeteries only a lot or two, reserved for the burial of those who could not afford a burial place or who were strangers.
We are now in the area of the Chariton Cemetery designated as Potter’s Field back in 1864, although at the time it was called the “South Cemetery.”
At the time, this pretty hilltop was isolated from the rest of the cemetery and out of view of the general public, reached by a lane leading south from the west end of the original plat.
The Potter’s Field reference, of course, is to the verses in the Gospel according to Matthew describing the actions of the chief priests after Judas had cast down before them those 30 pieces of silver. “And they took counsel,” Matthew reports, “and bought with them the potter’s field, to bury strangers in.”
The South Cemetery was never platted because no lots were sold here. Instead, as the need arose, individual gravesites were allocated to poor families or to city or county officials as the need arose.
As the years after 1864 passed, my father-in-law gradually purchased the stock of other organizers and by 1890, he owned the Chariton Cemetery Co. outright. Father Stanton took great pride in the cemetery and after his sons joined his medical practice, spent more and more time devoted to it. It was his pride and joy. He built the Stanton Vault --- long since demolished --- during 1887 and the remains of many family members, including my own, still are interred in its footprint.
I was not involved in cemetery operations until after Father Stanton died in 1908 and ownership passed to my husband. So I don’t know what happened to the original cemetery records.
By I do know that in 1902, when my father-in-law and his staff commenced the records still used by the city, he said that 78 people had been buried here in Potter's Field since the cemetery opened. Approximately 100 have been buried here since. So somewhere in the neighborhood of 180 souls, most likely more, rest here --- most in unmarked graves.
Much of what you see around us now in other parts of the cemetery represents landscaping and improvements undertaken after the city assumed ownership of the cemetery. It is such a beautiful and historic place that it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Chariton Cemetery Historic District.
As the need for more burial places developed the original plat was extended southward and modern tombstones have now surrounded these once-isolated graves --- but care always has been taken to guard the integrity of these final resting places.
I’m now going to introduce several of the people interred here over the years so that you can better understand the life circumstances that brought them here. We’ll begin with William Hallensleben, who died during 1867 and was among the first interred on this hilltop.
I’d like to begin by telling you that my name is misspelled on this tombstone, which is annoying since I paid for it --- indirectly --- myself. I’ve been waiting nearly 150 years to let someone know that; now YOU do.
My name is William Edward HALL-ens-leben, with an “a,” not HOLE-ens-leben, with an “o.” But Col. Dungan did the best he could by me when he ordered the stone, which he really didn’t have to do --- so I’m not going to complain any more than this.
Well …. He was a little off on the age, too --- I was only 59. And I was a native of the kingdom Prussia --- there was no “Germany” when I was born. But like I said, he did the best he could.
I was among the first to be buried here in Potter’s Field, although as the tombstone suggests, I could have afforded a better neighborhood. But my death on Nov. 18, 1867, was a considerable surprise, especially to me, and I was not prepared.
As I said, I was a native of Prussia, born there during 1808. I came to the United States of America just before 1840 and settled in Pennsylvania, where I married Hannah and we had five children in Huntington County, where we operated a hotel.
During the mid-1850s, Hannah and I sold out and headed west to Freeport in far northern Illinois, where I went into business with George Bickenbach as Hallensleben & Bickenbach, purveyors of general merchandise ranging from groceries to dry goods. I became a naturalized citizen of the United States while living at Freeport --- during the fall of 1856.
My life kind of fell apart after 1860, however --- the business failed and we had to sell out; Hannah died; and my children began to scatter.
So I took to the road --- just ran away, kind of.
By December of 1863, I was in Ohio and took a notion to enlist even though I was far too old. I knocked 10 years off my true age (told them I was 44) and tried it anyway --- and was mustered into the 1st Ohio Light Infantry Regiment.
But my body couldn’t take it, so after a few months I was discharged “for disability.”
After that, I headed west and found a job as clerk in the post office at St. Joe, Missouri, during late 1864 and 1865. By 1866, I was clerking at the St. George Hotel in Leavenworth, Kansas.
Later on in 1866, I decided to head back to Illinois, but got only as far as Burlington, Iowa --- then a boom town on the Mississippi --- where I decided to return to a trade I’d learned as a young man in Germany --- painting signs and decorating the walls and trim of buildings old and new. I set up shop and advertised my services --- graining, papering, glazing and gilding --- and managed to do fairly well. The equipment didn’t require much of an investment and the customer provided the supplies.
The new Burlington & Missouri River Railroad tracks reached Chariton during July of 1867, meaning building supplies could be shipped in by rail for the first time, too. And it became a boom town for builders.
So in September of that year, I packed my equipment and took the train west. I rented a room over the S. Stewart & Sons store on the northeast corner of the square and that was both my shop and my home. I began advertising in the Chariton newspapers and soon had as much work as I could handle.
Then on November 18 I just up and died --- and to this day I don’t know exactly what it was that killed me. But I had no family or close friends in Chariton and the sheriff could find nothing in my belongings to tell him who to contact.
So the county commissioners took charge of my remains and arranged for them to be buried at county expense in the Potter’s Field of the new Chariton Cemetery.
Later that month, the county clerk named attorney Warren S. Dungan to administer my estate. He had my belongings inventoried, did his best to find my heirs (but failed) and finally just sold everything I had, combined the proceeds with the cash I had on hand and turned it all over to the county judge.
It was the judge’s decision, once Col. Dungan had been paid for his trouble and upon his recommendation, to reimburse the county for my burial expenses, then spend most of the rest on a tombstone to mark my grave.
Col. Dungan knew me slightly --- his office was near my shop and we had exchanged pleasantries from time to time. So he ordered the tombstone and a footstone to match. He knew that my native language was German and that I was about 60 years old. He had a good idea about how my name was spelled, and almost got it right.
So that’s how I came to be buried here in Potter’s Field --- and why I have a tombstone that had it not broken still would be the biggest and best in the neighborhood. So far as I know my family never knew what became of me. I don't know if they even cared.