Sunday, May 30, 2021

The 1944 war of words regarding Freedom Cemetery

Cemetery maintenance --- in Chariton a city responsibility and elsewhere a task for township trustees (and our excellent Pioneer Cemetery Commission) --- can become an issue in Lucas County as Memorial Day approaches. Loved ones on their annual pilgrimages sometimes do not find conditions to their liking.

That's generally a factor of weather conditions combined with the challenges of finding responsible contractors to keep these hallowed grounds clipped and trimmed. Sometimes there are other factors. Back in 1944, it was World War II.

William H. "Bill" Ashby's letter to The Chariton Leader about the state of Freedom Cemetery (and the challenges encountered when getting there), published on June 1, might have been accepted as constructive criticism, however, had he not targeted both supervisors and trustees with a weaponized Bible verse (Proverbs 24:30), "I went by the field of the slothful, and by the vineyard of the man void of understanding ....," not just once, but twice, first at the beginning and then at the end of his letter.

In between, Mr. Ashby complained about the difficulty encountered while driving from Chariton to Freedom (the roads still were dirt and a culvert was out; he and his family had walked the final quarter mile to the cemetery); the fact some of the stones were in poor condition; and that a grass fire had gotten out of control, blackening a few stones, burning the rose bush on John Burley's grave and damaging the evergreen that Nettie Fluke had brought all the way from the Ozarks to plant at her parents' grave. And there were a few allegations about misspent tax dollars, too.

The supervisors and the trustees called Mr. Ashby's hand with a letter to the editor published in The Herald-Patriot of June 8, upping the ante a little with some mild cursing --- very rare indeed in Chariton newspapers of that era. Here's the letter:


As township trustees, we wish to tell the public that we realize the cemeteries of Warren township are not in good shape, and never were cleaned up as we would like to clean them, for which we are sorry. Also, the Freedom road was put on a three year program before the war started for surfacing. In fact, three roads were picked for the program, all leading to cemeteries. It is not our fault or the Board of Supervisors either that they were not rocked before this.

In reply to William Ashby, we wish to say that the man who did the work on Freedom cemetery is a respected citizen of Lucas county and has a very fine family with two sons in the service and another likely to go, fighting our war. When he was doing the best he could under the circumstances, it was very humiliating and uncalled for to have him published in the Chariton newspapers as a "vandal." Did you know, Bill, that one of the trustees took valuable time and gas coupons, namely A coupons, to try to find someone to clean the cemeteries? That by the time they were found, the trustee did not have coupons or gas enough to take his family to the Chariton cemetery to visit the family graves?

That he did not have time to go to the ration board and apply for the gas? That his family did not get to the cemetery on or before Decoration Day? That this was done without compensation for time or mileage? Bill, did you know that a very few people have raised so much hell about Freedom cemetery in the past that it is almost impossible to get anyone to care for it? The "vandal" has informed us that he will not go back any more to clean it. 

Did you know that we have the tax levy not spent on cemeteries in the First State Bank or that we do not get enough money to keep the cemeteries mowed all year? Have you ever cleaned up a cemetery that has bluestem and wire grass on it? Did you realize that the trustees receive $12 to $20 per year for township business and no compensation or mileage for looking after the cemeteries? That the other two cemeteries are cared for in the same manner and no fuss has been made? Did it every occur to you that a bunch of prowling youngsters might have knocked those monuments off their base? Has it ever occurred to you that cooperation from those interested in the cemetery would be far more helpful in getting the work done that airings in the Chariton newspapers?

Have you ever met with the board of trustees of Warren township in regard to the care of Freedom cemetery? Is any of your tax money spent to care for Freedom cemetery? Did you know that the so-called "vandal" drove right to the cemetery before Decoration Day? Did you know that some parties drove into the cemetery Decoration Day? And that the trustees did the same June 4th. Many more questions might be asked if space permitted. There's a war on, Bill, and if you want to care for Freedom cemetery the job is yours.

We have done the best we could and if it will make anyone feel any better, let them get the steam off their chest by giving us an airing through the Chariton newspapers.

(Signed) Deane Taylor, O.R. Clevenger, W.A. Swainey and Board of Trustees of Warren Township.

P.S. --- Will be looking for you to come out and clean the cemetery.

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