Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The minor mysteries of little Emma's tombstones

Had Find a Grave been available back in 1935, one of Lucas County's minor tombstone mysteries could have been clarified --- if not resolved --- many years ago. But because it wasn't, the following brief report in The Chariton Leader of July 2, 1935, published under the headline "Discover Old Grave Stone in Fire Ruins," left readers scratching their heads:


A grave marker made of native stone was discovered Wedneday by O.D. Jessup and Dewey Jessup as they were clearing away debris from the fire which June 17 destroyed the home of Dewey Jessup four miles south of Chariton.

The marker had the following inscription: "Emma, daughter of J.B. and C.L. Rodgers, died Mar. 17, 186."

It is thought that the house may have been originally erected on a cemetery site. A more likely theory, however, is that the stone never was placed on a grave. Since the date is not complete and much of the lettering imperfect, it  may be that the marker was discarded and eventually made its way into the foundation of the house.

The home destroyed June 17 was owned by O.D. Jessup, father of Dewey. It is to be replaced by a bungalow, 22x26, one story, of frame construction, they said.


Now, thanks to Find a Grave, it's easy to determine that little Emma has a perfectly good tombstone --- located in Mount Zion Cemetery, some distance northwest of Chariton. But there still are oddities. Her father's name was John B. Rodgers, so his initials were accurate on the mystery marker but incorrect on the final product. Her mother's name was Louisiana R. Rodgers, accurately expressed on the Mount Zion stone, not so on the native stone marker.

John and Louisiana and their family were living on a farm in Liberty Township, probably in the neighborhood of Mt. Zion Church and Cemetery, when the 1870 census was taken, but had moved to Fremont County in far southwest Iowa by 1880 and both reportedly died there during that decade. 

Little Emma is not alone at Mt. Zion, however. Her maternal grandparents, Richard and Elizabeth Welch, are buried there, too, as is one of her great-grandmothers, Sarah Francis Dunham.

But how a version of her tombstone ended up in the foundation of a house four miles south of Chariton we'll probably never know.

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