Rochester Sentinel Article
May 29, 2015
Memorial Day Observations
Over Memorial weekend I visited many of the grave sites of my ancestors. I am from the rural Culver area and my roots are deep in Marshall County, I have 37 direct ancestors buried there.
For me, a trip to the cemetery is filled with curiosity and nostalgia, where I fondly remember my relatives and other members of my community. Looking at markers from the 1800’s and sadly finding so many markers for youth, makes me wonder what malady ended their lives long before their time. Was there an epidemic? I suspect that was true in some cases where multiple children perished in the same year.
Cemeteries can tell stories. When I was in Russia, many of the grave sites were marked with a blue Russian Orthodox Three-bar Cross that was not familiar to me. It holds a lot of symbolism for that church. While in Ukraine, I happened to be there on their Memorial Day. Thousands of people walked to the cemetery, and sat down on the family bench located by the gravesite of their loved one where they shared a meal.
The story that came home to me, on this past weekend, was when I noticed three distinct types of markers in all the locations. The markers from the mid 1800’s were all of the same style, weathered white limestone, some unable to be read. These markers go back to the time of the early pioneers who struggled to keep their growing families alive and fed. At this time Indiana quarried stones were hauled into the area by horse and wagon. This was a period of our history when you worked hard, died young and had little of an estate to give your heirs.
In these cemeteries are also found the large marble and granite monuments mostly dated in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. This was a time of prosperity and growth in our country when granite and marble could be hauled all over the world by ship and train. In the late Victorian era people lived longer and dined better. The goal of a farm couple was to leave their children an 80 acre farm of their own. One of my ancestors has a large black polished granite monument, capped with a two foot diameter smooth round stone ball.
Our Indiana Statehouse and the Fulton County Courthouse was built during this era. Both buildings are architecturally pleasing and somewhat extravagant by today’s standards.
In reference to today, our headstones are more modest, still made from granite, but representative of a more conservative spending style. In a lot of ways we are still influenced by the Great Depression. Many of the people that are being laid to rest today came through that era of financial calamity.
As I look across that cemetery, I wonder if we will ever return to a time of building extravagance. If we were to build a new Statehouse today, would the ornate be replaced by the practical?
I thank my ancestors for their sacrifices that have benefited me, especially those that have fought for our freedom. I also thank them for their beautiful architectural contributions to our community, including the cemeteries.
Purdue Cooperative Extension Service-Fulton County
1009 West Third Street
Rochester, IN 46975 574 223-3397