Saturday, November 19, 2011

Back to the Tiny Cemetery - Markers and Dozers and Shotguns, Oh My!

You will recall from an earlier post that the "tiny cemetery" was, indeed, quite tiny and contained a wooden sign and three headstones. Two of the three stones were original, the largest marking the grave of one Isaac Reeve, born in North Carolina, who died in Morgan County, Illinois, in 1860. 

There was one other large modern stone in the cemetery listing all of the "known" burials. It was placed by the Reeve Family Association in 1993. 

Immediately it was clear that something was seriously amiss. Where were all of the other stones and markers? Surely this cemetery had to encompass more land than what I was standing on. Where did it go?

It was at this point that I met my distant cousins and caretakers of this cemetery, known as the "Isaac Reeve Memorial Cemetery". They were a delightful older couple, and I could instantly tell that this was a story they very much enjoyed telling. I only wish that I had recorded their voices as they explained to me what had happened, because the inflection and the give-and-take between Raymond and Lytha (my cousins) only made the telling of it at that moment worth solid gold. 

Lytha began by telling me about the family association, and how it was formed. She showed me the original deed to the cemetery that they had kept all of these years, showing that Keren Reeve, Isaac's daughter, had deeded a portion of her farm for the purpose of a family burial ground, as was customary in many families in this area in the mid to late 1800s. She gave me a photocopy of the deed to keep.

It was about this time that Raymond began to speak. As a matter of fact, in his earnest to tell the tale of the tiny cemetery, he would interrupt Lytha with little comments about this person or that timeframe such that it was almost comical. Then Raymond took over, and I finally learned what happened years before.

Lots were being sold in the 1950s along the county highway where the cemetery is located. Apparently, a gentleman bought the lot adjacent to the cemetery with the intent to build a home there. Not a big deal, right?

Raymond was driving home one afternoon after work, and to his disbelief, there were bulldozers on the land - the cemetery land - turning over dirt and grave markers (and heaven knows what else). He immediately stopped alongside the road and asked what was going on. He was told that the dirt was being moved to make room for the foundation of the new home. Raymond pointed to the tossed stones, some of which had fallen down into a nearby creek, and said, you can't do that, this is a cemetery. Nope, said the new landowner, this is my property now, and I can do with it whatever I want. 

I wish I could convey to you the animation with which Raymond told the next part of the story, but sadly, you will have to bear with my narrative. 

Raymond proceeded to go home, called the sheriff, grabbed his shotgun, and flew back down the road to where the cemetery and bulldozers were. He demanded that the bulldozing stop or else, and I can honestly say I give the man in the bulldozer credit for ceasing his dozing, as I think Raymond very much meant what he said. The sheriff showed up and tried to calm the parties down, and eventually after an exchange of words, both Raymond and the new landowner agreed to go their separate ways and to investigate the boundaries of the land before anything further was done. 

Lytha then picked up the story, as she was instrumental in visiting the courthouse and double-checking on the property boundaries. Of course, she had the original deed, so in her mind and in Raymond's, there was a clear demarcation, and that the land had been trespassed upon and the cemetery destroyed. They also went back to the cemetery to rescue the turned-over markers, but found none. Affidavits from older residents in the area were collected, and all of them stated that there had been a dozen or so grave markers in that cemetery before the bulldozing incident. Raymond and Lytha had their ducks in a row, it seemed, and had covered all of the bases.

At about that time in their storytelling, I happened to glance down at the photocopy of the deed Lytha had given me, and I noticed a few words underlined in red pencil. Those underlined words would be the crux of the entire existence of the cemetery from its beginning to its near-demise.

Just a few words in a deed. Not just any deed either. 

Next:  What I learned about 19th century deeds, the hard way...

1 comment:

  1. You are a wonderful story-teller! I am so looking forward to reading more of this great story!