Tombstone tour stirs historical interest

Rose Hill suffered earlier this year, when what appeared to be a small tornado touched down and took with it a number of those old, stately trees that give the cemetery much of its charm. But it’s all cleaned up now and looking pretty good, and more trees are going to be planted to replace those Mother Nature’s vacuum cleaner took. This kind of housekeeping we could manage without.

Now Rose Hill will be featured as part of the Tombstone Trail, a tour of six cemeteries in Noble and DeKalb counties that will uncover – pardon the pun – 61 stories of history. Yeah, I’m excited, you wanna make something of it? History’s not dead to me, even if it’s dead history.

This is all part of turning the US 6 highway, which stretches east and west across most of the country, into the same kind of historical tourist attraction that Route 66 used to be. After all, both highways span both America’s history and its girth. US 6 has been named the Grand Army of the Republic Highway and some of the sites along the way are grand indeed, although I don’t recall passing a fort or a cavalry troop lately.

Maybe in there’s still a fort in Iowa?

The Tombstone Trail tours will take place in October, but this isn’t some Halloween themed scare trip (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It will take you to the former home and final resting place of author and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter, and tell us all a little something about a Nobel Prize winner, the hard-luck Weeks family, early pioneers, Jewish businessmen, Civil War veterans of both sides, and Indiana’s Poet Laureate, not to mention an Albion businessman murdered by a thief.

The whole concept includes guided and self-guided tours, a cemetery conservation workshop, lessons in making foil art impressions (foil’s not just to keep the government out of your head anymore) and — because it is, after all, October — a zombie walk. I assume that means people dressed as zombies, not real zombies. I assume.

Oh, and I’m looking forward to checking out the “Cabin at Wildflower Woods,” something I don’t know anything about except that the cabin is supposedly still occupied by the woman who built it – almost 100 years ago. That should be fun. I’ll wait by the door.

But it’s mostly about history, and learning a bit about the people who built this land before we came along, and if it’s also educational, hey – just pretend it isn’t. There’s a little cost involved, but since I’m not making a dime on this thing you can trust me when I say it’s well worth supporting this and future efforts.

Notice that, up till now, I still haven’t made a single pun about graves or cemeteries of any kind? You’re welcome. In return I’ll sell the soap by saying you can find out more on the website, at www.tombstonetrail.com, or call the Noble County Visitors Bureau at 1-877-202-5761 or 260-599-0060.  You’re welcome, NCVB. Buy a copy of my book, please.

Emily and I have always been fascinated by the history and atmosphere in cemeteries. You’d think interest in such places would be dead (hey, I lasted this long, didn’t I?), but there’s something to them I can’t explain. You don’t have to be a writer to appreciate it, but we’ve come up with story ideas and names for characters just by wandering past the old stones.

Each name is a person, and each person had a life. I’ve wandered around Rose Hill Cemetery and discovered the resting places of some area movers and shakers, people I knew as a child, the brother of a Hollywood celebrity, and some of the Albion Fire Department’s early fire chiefs.

I still haven’t located Albion’s first fire chief, A.J. Denlar, but I discovered the grave of a man named John Frazure, who used to own most of my neighborhood and so probably built my house – and who was once in business with A.J. Denlar, before that business was destroyed … by a fire.

See, you start checking out history and you learn the coolest things. Now I want to start work again on my book about the early history of the fire department. How cool is that? And so is checking out old cemeteries, even if you don’t like history.

After all, you might see a ghost, or find a relative, or both at the same time … and it’s a great excuse for a walk.

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