Sunday, May 4, 2008

Grave Adventures

Originally posted HERE on Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Over the last weeks since my vacation, I have managed to upload most of the information and photos about burials to Find-a-Grave that I have collected over the years I've been doing genealogy. You can browse what I've submitted by using the link I provided in my previous entry, if you're interested!

All this thinking about graves and cemeteries reminded me of an "adventure" I had a few years ago. At the time, I lived in Kirkwood, MO, a suburb of St. Louis. I belonged to a mailing list (in fact, I still do) along with a couple of the descendents of a man named William A. Tolbert, a brother of my g-g-g-grandmother, Mary Tolbert. They had mentioned that he was buried in Jersey County, IL, in Brown Cemetery, which I discovered was only about an hour and a half drive from where I lived. One day, when I was bored, I decided to take a short road trip! The following is the text of the email I wrote the next day describing the experience.

Written July 26, 1998:

Yesterday I had a few free hours and decided I would drive up to Jersey Co, IL to look for the grave of William Allen Tolbert. (Good thing I didn't wait until today... it's all rainy and dark outside!)

There is good news and some very bad news! I did manage to find the cemetery, but if W. A. Tolbert was buried there, either the gravestone is gone, or it has fallen over and the weeds and bushes have hidden it! The whole place is a mess, I feel like I must have been divinely inspired to even find the graveyard! (OK, maybe I just have good intuition!) :)

I got to Jerseyville about noon, and spent a couple hours driving back and forth in the area where I knew it had to be, trying to see if there were any graves off the side of the road where I could see them from the car. I couldn't find anything, and I worried that the graves might be behind one of the tall corn fields in the area. I took a break and went back after lunch. I tried a couple more times (I couldn't drive as slowly as I wanted to... I was surprised how much traffic there was on that road). There was one place along the road that I decided I would park and get out and walk around. It was a large clump of trees, right in the middle of all the corn and soybean fields. And there was actually a place nearby where I could pull off the road... most of the rest of the road had ditches close to the pavement (or gravel, or dirt, depending on which part I was on). I walked over to the trees, and managed to get over the ditch on some fallen branches, and when I pulled back some bushes, I found a rusted iron fence with three graves in it, so I knew I had finally found it. At first I thought that was all to the graveyard, and I was disappointed to see that the gravestones were all for a family named Campbell. But looking thru the thick branches beyond the fence, I could see more gravestones outside the fence.

The condition of this graveyard is horrible! I managed to get thru the bushes and weeds (the worst were blackberry bushes... ouch!!) all the way back to the rear boundary of the cemetery. There were about 15 graves that I could see, and all but one of the large stones were knocked over. Some smaller stones had broken off, and someone had propped them up against their base. Of the recognizeable graves, I could read at least part of maybe 5 of them. I couldn't find a grave with William Tolbert's name on it, but I am assuming that there were probably many more gravestones that had fallen down and were hidden by the undergrowth. There was one large gravestone that had fallen down that I couldn't get close enough to read, because of the blackberry bushes all the way around it! (I kept thinking of the castle in Sleeping Beauty!) But I could see a masonic symbol on it, and I thought I could make out the word "wife", so I don't think it was the one I was looking for. In all, it probably took me 45 minutes to work my way thru the cemetery and back. I took some pictures, mainly to show the condition of the grounds and the stones there. My hair was full of leaves and sticks, and I spent a few minutes looking for ticks (I only found 3) :)

Dixie, how long ago was it when your brother took those pictures? From what I saw, I would guess that it's been several years since anyone has been back in there. I would really be interested in seeing copies of the pictures he took for comparison (and let me know if you'd like me to pay costs.) After I see how my photos come out, I'll be happy to scan and email them to anyone who'd like them, or I can have copies made and snailmail them. Let me know!

Sorry this email was so long, but I wanted to try to impress on you all how difficult and disappointing it was to find this cemetery. From the way it looked, I can't imagine it being cleaned up unless there was some way to burn all the undergrowth without damaging anything else. I don't know if there would be any way to organize enough people to make a difference!

What did I learn from this excursion? Well, since then I have carried sweat pants and a sweatshirt in the trunk of my car. I sure could have used them that day!

I still have those photos, although they didn't turn out very good. Mainly they just show a very tangled bit of wooded wilderness. If I come across them soon, I'll post them here to illustrate!

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