Sunday, April 23, 2017

The passing of a cemetery preservation hero

I was saddened to see the news in Thursday's Herald-Patriot of the passing of Bernard Casebolt on April 12 at the age of 89. Although buried at Waverly, where he and his wife, Patricia, moved during 2001 to be nearer their daughter, Mr. Casebolt was otherwise a lifelong resident of the Melrose community in southwest Monroe and southeast Lucas counties.

Evans Cemetery, in far southwest Monroe County's Jackson Township, lovingly restored almost single-handedly by Mr. Casebolt between 1988 and 1998, certainly is among his permanent memorials. This was work undertaken before Iowans in general became aware of the problems faced statewide by abandoned graveyards and efforts to rescue, conserve and restore them became commonplace.

Evans Cemetery dates from the late 1840s or early 1850s, when what is sometimes known as the "four corners" --- Monroe, Lucas, Wayne and Appanoose counties come together nearby --- was a lively pioneer neighborhood. But the last burial there was in 1905 and eventually the cemetery was swallowed by woodland, isolated some distance from the nearest public road. As I boy, I remember it as a mysterious place, difficult to find, of tumbled tombstones buried in deep green.

Mr. Casebolt, who grew up nearby, remembered the cemetery from his boyhood, too, and decided to take on the task of restoring it --- and the treasures it contains.

The chief treasure is one of Iowa's earliest Civil War monuments, erected on July 19, 1866, by nearby residents to commemorate young men from the neighborhood who had died in the war --- their names are inscribed on the elaborately carved stone base --- and others who served. Their names were carved on the obelisk that towers above the base.

He also found discarded in the woods the unique turnstile pedestrian entrance to the cemetery and restored it, cleared brush, righted fallen stones and opened a broad clearing along a new lane to the nearest access road. The result was dedicated on Memorial Day 2000.

When Mr. Casebolt began his work, the obelisk had fallen from its base, but he secured it in the original position. Although the marble of the base is remarkably well preserved, the same could not be said for the carving on the obelisk --- more than a century of exposure to the elements had eroded the surface.

A 33-year veteran of Chariton's Johnson Machine Works --- many of them as a production supervisor --- equipped him with the skills needed to craft an innovative solution. He created a copper shell that matched the marble in size and shape, engraved on it the names originally chiseled into stone, then slipped the cap down over the deteriorating marble --- both preserving what remained and ensuring that the information contained in the original inscriptions still was accessible.

If you'd care to read more about Evans Cemetery, I've written about it a couple of times. The earlier post, "That Evans Cemetery Monument," is here; a later post, "Autumn Color and Evans Cemetery Revisited," his here. The photos here were taken during early October, 2013. You can read Mr. Casebolt's obituary here.

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