Thursday, January 08, 2009

Arthur Lillly Revisited

I wanted to use the title “Arthur Lilly Redux” here, but some folks are fussy about that word “redux” and heaven knows Arthur Lilly already has generated enough controversy.

In February of 2008 I wrote about Arthur’s death and burial in a piece entitled “The Contentious Passing of Arthur Lillie,” which you can find here if interested. If not, here’s the summary:

Arthur was something of a hermit who lived during the 1860s and early 1870s in a cabin just northwest of where the New York Road and the Lucas-Wayne county line intersect in far south Benton Township. Born in Ireland and far from kith and kin, he had neither known relatives nor intimate friends, only good neighbors --- including the Levi and Sarah Fox family and my own Myers ancestors and their extended family.

In late May, 1875, neighbors who knew Arthur was not in the best of health and who hadn’t seen him out and about for a few days investigated and found his decomposing body on the floor of his cabin. They built a coffin and buried him near the cabin, then turned his assets, roughly $70, over to the Lucas County courts.

There it might have ended had this footnote to Benton Township history not caught the attention of an anonymous source with the pseudonym Alba Owen who poison-penned a report to The Chariton Leader alleging that Arthur appeared to have been strangled, that those who buried him ransacked is body and cabin and made off with his treasure and then addressed the deceased as follows, "You lived like a hog, and we will bury you like one," as they unceremoniously buried him. That report was published June 5.

This report caused considerable unrest among the neighbors whose reputations it blackened, and on June 12 The Leader published a somewhat red-faced retraction, then went on to recount what really had happened.

I ended that piece a year ago convinced that Arthur’s unmarked grave still was out there somewhere on those 40 acres that he claimed. But I was wrong, as my cousin Frank Mitchell kindly pointed out a few months ago.

I had violated Rule No. 1 to follow when dealing with folks who are buried in Lucas County: Check the Lucas County Genealogical Society’s 1981 compilation of county tombstone inscriptions first before sticking one’s foot in one’s mouth and chomping down.

Frank, out at Freedom Cemetery last fall on a Tuttle-related errand (Freedom is a Tuttle boneyard), noted a tombstone way off by itself in the far northeast corner of the cemetery, walked over to examine it and lo and behold, there was Arthur Lilly. He checked the cemetery book, and yes --- there was a recorded, if not quite accurate, Arthur Lilly inscription. The actual inscription on the stone reads,

Died May 21, 1875
60 years

The odd thing about Arthur’s grave at Freedom is this: It is barely inside the cemetery fence (although that fence dates from long after 1875) and a considerable distance from any other marked grave in the cemetery. Look carefully below and you can barely see the tombstone in the middle distance, right against the north cemetery fence.

So how did this all come to be?

Frank speculates (and I agree) that Alba Owen’s poison pen stung Arthur’s Benton Township neighbors so badly that they decided to deal unambiguously with anything that might be perceived as a wrong. My guess would be that Michael Reynolds, who The Leader reported had been named Arthur’s executor, ramrodded the project.

In all likelihood, Michael (who lived closer to Freedom than he did to either Salem or New York, the other cemeteries in the vicinity) probably obtained a gravesite at Freedom and the neighbors who buried Arthur in the first place disinterred his body, perhaps the following winter, and reburied it there. The $70 found among Arthur’s possessions when he died probably bought the tombstone.

Since cemetery lots in those days usually were quite large, Michael would not have wanted to buy a full lot for a single burial and because he apparently was Roman Catholic, probably would not have been interested in purchasing a lot of his own in a Protestant cemetery on which Arthur might be buried. So he probably obtained a site for a single burial in what was considered the “public” area of the cemetery, set aside usually for those who lacked enough money to purchase a burial plot.

Inscriptions from Calvary Cemetery in Chariton, Lucas County’s only Catholic cemetery, show a Michael Reynolds, born 4 March 1816, who died 4 March 1876, less than a year after Alfred did. If this is our Michael, then he outlived Arthur by under a year.

Most likely the date of Arthur’s death on the tombstone, May 21, and the age, 60, are best guesses.

Whatever the case, it’s good to know that Arthur Lilly’s whereabouts are known and that he’s not lost out there somewhere in Benton Township in an unmarked grave.

These photos were taken out at Freedom Monday. As you can tell, all but a few scraps of Lucas County's snow and all of its ice have melted. I wish that were the case in Cerro Gordo County.


Anonymous said...

I read your blog faithfully and have often promised I would respond. -- Well, this is it! I was surprised to see your picture of Freedom Cemetery. My ancestors are the Roses, and their plot is the overgrown one that looks like nobody cares. We DO care, but we survivors are just not there to care for the plot. My g-g-g-grandmother, Ruth Talkington Rose (born in PA in 1786) is buried there, along with g-g-grandparents Steven Gilbert and Roselinda Jane (Ogden) Rose. I am Wanda Frye Horn, daughter of Fred and Margaret Frye, who lived at Russell from 1941 to 1971. We attended First Baptist at Russell, and I once assisted Isis Arnold in teaching a VBS class of which one member was a small, bespectacled Frankie Myers. (David Johnson was another.) I also appreciate your information on Salem, since my family attended Salem Church in the mid-1940s. Lots of good Lucas County memories! I usually go back every summer. -- Wanda Horn, Hixson, TN

Frank D. Myers said...

Hi Wanda,

I certainly do remember Wanda Frye and you've nailed me, right down to the glasses. I ran into Alice Wilhite at HyVee a couple of years ago and she recalled picking myself and my Class of 1964 cohort Gwen Ann Cottingham up and delivering us to Bible school. Kids will be kids I guess, so what I remember most is recess --- there's this little scene I can play in my head at will of the First Baptist front yard on a warm and kind of cloudy summer morning filled with frolicking Bible school scholars. I've never been sure why that scene stuck with me.

And I still think of First Baptist when I think of church --- sunshine comeing in through the Woodman memorial window, the display of organ pipes (now gone) up front and the ceremonious opening by ushers of what seemed like huge sliding doors that separated the sanctuary from the Sunday school room, complete with theater seats, at the north end of the building.

And that reminds me of a post I've been intending to do. The original plans for First Baptist turned up in my "in" box a couple years ago after they turned up in the files of the Minneapolis architect who designed it. Turns out that First Baptist probably is the most architecturally significant building in Russell, especially since it's changed so little, and probably would have a good shot of landing on the National Register of Historic Places if someone wanted to undertake that process.

In any case, it was great to hear from you!


ndtttttttttttt said...

I would like to contact Wanda Horn who says in the above post that she is the g-g-g-granddaughter of Ruth Talkington Rose, who is buried at the Freedom Cemetery, Lucas County, Iowa.

Ruth was my g-g-g-g-great aunt and I am the g-g-g-g-great grandson of Ruth's father John Talkington, Sr.


N. Dale Talkington, Stillwater, OK

(cell phone: 305-343-4229)