Thursday, May 10, 2018

George Overmire, LaGrange and the black smallpox

I've swiped these two LaGrange Cemetery photos from the "Find a Grave" site this morning after failing to find my own photographs from the cemetery, buried somewhere among stored digital images. Credit for the tombstone photo belongs to Laurence Overmire and "pvallen" took the cemetery sign shot.

The distinctive sign was crafted by the late Walter Thorne, of Chariton, who is buried here --- I can tell you that --- although this post has nothing in particular to do with the Thornes.

I assume that Laurence Overmire is a descendant (or relation) of George W. Overmire, who passed to his final reward at age 29 on June 9, 1863, and also is buried here, behind a tombstone that recently has been embedded in concrete and restored to its upright position.

A little more information about George --- a story about how he died --- turned up the other day in a longer article written by Henry Gittinger and published on Page 1 of The Chariton Leader of Oct. 6, 1916.

Henry apparently had stopped at LaGrange --- located on the Lucas-Monroe county line just north of U.S. 34 --- while out joyriding that fall and was thereby inspired to write an article he headlined, "Told by the Tombstones." This was vintage Henry --- flowery rhetoric and homespun philosophizing --- but finally, in the last paragraph, he got around to this:

"Over yonder is a modest little stone telling of the two tragic events in the career of George Overmeyer, when he was born and when he died. But it did not say how he died. More than a half century ago he lived a happy existence with his young wife and little family in a little cabin by the side of the state road. One evening at twilight, or perhaps earlier when the day began to wane, he was sitting on the door sill, romping with the children, when a lone stranger, sick and footsore, turned in at the gate and asked comfort. He was given the cup of cold water and whatever else was his desire, and passed on never to be seen again. In the course of time George Overmeyer was stricken by black smallpox and died with the loathsome infection, which the stranger had unconsciously brought him, and the sequel remains yet to be read. What revelations are marked upon these old stones --- and yet how unknown."

There are a couple of issues with Henry's report. He adopted a variant spelling of "Overmire" and managed to declare that both George's birth and death were "tragic." Henry also fictionalized the circumstances a bit. But it does seem likely that George died of smallpox --- one of the great killers of that era --- and his family and friends concluded at the time that he had been infected by a passing stranger.

George reportedly was born March 26, 1834, in Ohio, but was living in Jackson County, Indiana, when he married Minerva McClintock on June 14, 1853. George was a carpenter by trade and a year later, during 1854, brought Minerva and his mother, Rachel, west to the village of LaGrange, then a flourishing village and stage stop on the state road between Albia and Chariton.

In 1860, George was farming in addition to carpentering, and two of the couple's sons --- Joseph Calvin and John William --- had been born. A third son, Andrew, reportedly was born in 1862.

Three years after George's death, during January of 1866, Minerva married as her second husband Orlando J. Plymate and they became the parents of a daughter, Ada, born during 1867.

Orlando and Minerva continued to live in Monroe County until his death at age 84 on Feb. 10, 1914. After Orlando died, Minerva moved to Montana, where she died two years later.

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