The land falls sharply away toward sunset at the far western end of the Chariton Cemetery's north drive. And just before the drive turns south, a double grave surrounded by an iron fence becomes evident abruptly to the north, tucked in a fold at the woodland's edge.
There are many stories about these two graves, some outlandish --- but truth is, here rests a young pioneer woman so cheerful and so kind that she won a young boy's heart, causing him to remember her distinctly 50 years later. Then she died and eventually found a resting place here with her infant son.
According to the inscription on the stone, it marks the graves of "Mary, Wife of Henry Finley & Daughter of J.W. Stanbery of Ohio, Died June 18, 1857, in her 22nd Year" and "Also their son, Harry, Died Aug. 11, 1857, Aged 6 Mo."
Mary Jones Stanbery, born Jan. 13, 1834, was a daughter of Jacob Wycoff Stanbery (1805-1875) and his first wife, Eliza Jones (1805-1844), who lived in Deerfield Township, Morgan County, Ohio. Jacob was a charter member of the Deerfield Township Anti-Slavery Society and their home, reportedly a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Mary Stanbery and Henry Finley were married June 4, 1856, in Morgan County, and most likely set out that fall --- after Ohio crops had been harvested --- for Lucas County. They were not enumerated in the 1856 state census of Lucas County, which suggests arrival late in the year. Harry, born during February of 1857, would have been their only child.
Upon arrival in Lucas County, they reportedly settled just west of what now is Derby (a place not even dreamed of then) on the high prairies of Union Township, many miles (in ox-drawn wagon days) southwest of Chariton.
Not long before Mary and Henry were married in Ohio, Dr. Thomas Morford Throckmorton, then a small boy, had stepped off a stage coach in Chariton about noon on April 16, 1856, with his mother and two siblings. His father, John, was some days behind, hauling from Keokuk (where the family had arrived by riverboat from Wheeling, (West) Virginia, a few days earlier) with team and wagon the family's household goods.
By the time the Finleys arrived in Union Township, the Throckmortons already had established their home there in a double log cabin.
Writing many years later, during 1907, about those early days, Dr. Tom reminisced briefly about Mary Finley: "One more name I wish to mention, Henry Finlay (sic): when last heard of he was in California. He came from Ohio with his young wife who lived with us while they built a house on the prairie just west of Derby. She died within the year, and now is sleeping with her young babe in the Chariton Cemetery. Perhaps you have noticed the lone grave with an iron fence about it in the northwest corner of the cemetery; well, this is Mrs. Finlay's grave, the woman who was so cheerful, so kind to my mother, and won my boyish heart; she peacefully rests there, a martyr to the new country, waiting the resurrection and the gathering home of friends from far and near, yes, from the remotest parts of the earth." (The original typescript of Dr. Throckmorton's memoir is in the Lucas County Historical Society collection.)
It's not clear how Mary and her baby came to be buried in Chariton, a considerable distance (in 1857 miles) from Union Township. It may be that Henry brought the bodies here so that they could be interred in a more settled place, or perhaps Mary had been brought to Chariton for treatment during her final illness and died here. Some have speculated that she was buried first near her prairie cabin home, then reburied later in Chariton, also possible.
We do know that she was buried first in the original Chariton Cemetery, located on the Columbus School hill just a half block northwest of where I'm sitting and typing now.
Seventy years after Mary's death, brief mention of the Finley graves was made in a Chariton Herald-Patriot (June 7, 1928) article about various issues the cemetery was dealing with at that time. "As a matter of fact," according to that article, "the bodies were not buried where they now lie in the '50's, but near the present west (Columbus) school building. Later they were removed and on their second removal came to the graves which now house their remains."
The current Chariton Cemetery was developed in 1863 in part because of a need to relocate the graves in the earlier burial ground, by then surrounded by homes and with little room for expansion. Once developed, remains were moved from the old cemetery to the new and Chariton's first substantial school building constructed on the old cemetery site.
The current location of the Finley graves suggests that no family members were on hand to supervise their relocation --- it is not the most desirable spot in the cemetery. Henry Finley seems to have moved on prior to 1860. There would, after all, be little to hold him here after his wife and child had died. In addition, the current tombstone --- and the iron fence --- date from considerably later than the 1850s.
The 1928 article hints at what may have happened: "For a long time the cemetery board wondered who Mary Finley's relatives might be, then one day a stranger came to Chariton and asked Mr. Lamb (cemetery superintendent) if he could take him to the grave of Mary Finley. He could and did, and he was curious to learn something of the relatives who had dropped out of everyone's recollection. The stranger told him Mary Finley left her old home with her young husband and went west. Iowa was west then. Here she died and was buried. That was in the spring. In August the baby followed the mother in death. J.W. Stansbury, was once the governor of Ohio (this is not true, FDM). Through the visit of the stranger, relatives were notified of her grave and the care fee for the graves and from back east came money sufficient to take care of the graves of the two for evermore."
It seems likely that this "stranger," probably a member of the Ohio Stanbery family, also commissioned the current tombstone and the iron fence --- near the turn of the 20th century. What became of Henry Finley, I can't say.
That iron fence had a close call late in the 20th century after complaints from the cemetery maintenance crew that its spikes were hazards and also prevented lawnmower access. The fence was removed.
Then Jim Steinbach complained and Ron Chirstensen's assistance was called for. He crafted (without charge) hinges for one of the fence's panels so that it could be opened for grave maintenance and it was returned to its original location.
So now, Mary, Harry --- and their fence --- continue to rest in peace in the Chariton Cemetery.