Sunday, November 06, 2016

Ordinary lives, extraordinary symbolism


George W. Hopkins fathered 16 children by three wives during the course of his 64 years, but it is the symbolism-laden tombstone of the second Mrs. Hopkins --- Laura --- that catches the eye in the Chariton Cemetery. Some 15 years younger than George, she died on June 2, 1873, of "child-bed fever." 


George commissioned an elaborate marble tablet stone with raised carving and a clutch of elaborately carved symbols at the top --- a shell, clasped hands and flowers in full bloom --- to mark her grave. When he died some 12 later, a stone as nearly identical to Laura's as the carver could manage was commissioned to mark his grave.


If you look carefully at the symbols atop the tablets, you'll see that the detailing differs slightly. 

The first Mrs. Hopkins, Delilah, rests somewhere in Indiana; and the third, Anna, who remarried and lived until 1924, has a far simpler stone elsewhere in the cemetery.

You can read as much or as little meaning as you like into tombstone symbols, but the shell is an especially ancient one, generally symbolizing pilgrimage; sometimes baptism --- many of us I suspect were baptized with water poured from a small silver shell that had been dipped into the font.

The clasped hands generally symbolize a couple, although they are used sometimes to signify other relationships, too. Flowers in full bloom sometimes symbolize a life that ended in its prime, although George was little past that when he passed to his final reward.

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George was a native of New Jersey who married Delilah Newby during 1844 in Jackson County, Indiana, where they had three children before her death in 1850, most likely in childbirth or shortly thereafter.

He brought his children west to Lucas County about 1854, settling some five miles south of Chariton in Benton Township, and on Feb. 16, 1854, married Laura White. He was 31 at the time and she was 17. They had seven children, the youngest of whom died shortly before his or her mother.

The 1860 federal census shows George and his family as residents of Chariton and his occupation as county sheriff. But other than this brief foray into law enforcement, he appears to have concentrated on farming in Benton Township.

Less than a year after Laura's death --- on Jan. 1, 1874 --- George married Anna Lovina Whitten. She, too, was 17 at the time of the marriage; George, 52. They had six children before George's death.

George died unexpectedly at his farm home early Sunday morning, April 19, 1885. He had worked all day Saturday, started feeling poorly in the late afternoon, grew progressively worse, and Dr. Todd was called out from Chariton to attend him. The doctor remained with him all night, but George succumbed to what his physician diagnosed as a "congestive chill" during the early morning hours.

Although quite prosperous, George had not bothered to make a will and that complicated life for his widow, who by law inherited a third of his property with the rest to be divided among his nine surviving children, some of whom were quite young --- Charity Powers, Laura Shields and Mary, Annie, Nettie, Harry, Elmer, Lulu and Jessie Hopkins. George's 16th child and Anna's sixth, Georgia, was born poshumously on Aug. 31, 1885.

There was no one to continue the farming operation at the time, so estate administrator G.W. Mitchell scheduled an auction of farm-related property --- in excess of what the widow had claimed for herself --- for Thursday, Aug. 20. That property included one 5-year-old stallion, four horses, three spring colts, 13 head of milk cows, 30 head of young cattle, 21 hogs, one pair of stock scales, one top buggy, one lumber wagon, one spring wagon, one corn sheller and horsepower, four sets of harness and "various other items."

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