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May 27, 2003

Tombstones are link to community's history
By DEB NICKLAY, Of The Globe Gazette

MITCHELL - The breeze softly stirs the evergreens that line the path to this small Mitchell Cemetery.

Located on the curve of a gravel road - marked with a sign that says "Dead End"-this piece of land called Oak Grove is like thousands of other Iowa cemeteries, whose tombstones are also touchstones to personal and community history.

Oak Grove is a pretty place, a quiet place, bordered on three sides by Iowa farm fields. Its western edge, probably its first home, hugs the banks of the Cedar River.

The cemetery dates to 1898, but its residents have been here longer. Pioneers who braved the Iowa prairie more than 150 years ago lay here.

It is here where Polly Irish Wells, among its oldest residents, was born in 1791.

Those near her were her neighbors in life as well, with the names of Sherman, Wall, Bronson, Hatch, Chambers and Stillman.

Many early tombstone inscriptions are faded and worn, a cost exacted by the cycle of 100 or more seasons.

Past lives are distilled to names and dates and, every so often, a biblical verse or a hopeful message can be read. There are inscriptions that reach out to visitors, eager to offer up their stories.

Clarence Jenkins was only 4 years old when he died on New Year's Eve 1888; his sister, Leah, was only 10 months old. Another sister, Alice, died in 1881, when she was 2.

As in life, they share a common home. They are, their stone says whims- ically, "Over in the Summer Land."

Lizzie Wall Glover was 21 years old when she gave birth to son Roy, and 22 years old when twins Grace and James were born, just 18 months later. Lizzie died when she was 24.

The twins entered and left life together. They died on March 7, 1884. Their brother Roy, 6, died a few weeks earlier.

Although not known, history tells us cholera and typhoid were common causes of death during this era, especially among the young.

"Is it well with the thee?

Is it well with the child?

And she answered, 'It is well.' " from II Kings, is inscribed on the Wall family monument.

Mitchell resident Pat Barrett, doing some work nearby, pointed out another stone that tells of a life shortly ordered.

Civil War soldier Col. John W. Sherman was 25 when he died in the notorious Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

"His family found a way to bring the body back," he said.

"Think about that, back then." Sherman's brother Alvin, also a Union soldier, rests nearby, dead at 27.

John Abbott's marker simply says "He Was Faithful." Almira Townsend Tucker was "matron of the Iowa Iowa Soldiers Orphans Home in Cedar Falls, from 1869 until 1876."

Elizabeth Smith's loved ones, borrowing a line from I Corinthians 13, says, "Now We See Through A Glass Darkly."

A good many graves are forgotten here. Still, on a spring walk through Oak Grove, you may unexpectedly find life.

On the grave of Ellen Hyde Winter, a bright and fresh red rose rests. You look around, and see no one.

But perhaps if you stand still enough, listen hard enough, you may hear the echoes of memories still preserved in this sacred ground.

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