Tuesday, May 6, 2014

A Tour of the Sutton Cemetery

The Sutton Cemetery has more than 3,600 graves on a pleasant, slightly
rolling site just north of town.
Clues to the history of a town can be found in many places but one of the better places is where towns bury the most important part of their history, the cemetery.

“Dead men tell no tales” was a famous line from the Old West, but it’s not exactly true. There is plenty to learn from a visit to the cemetery or at least there are good clues to pursue to be able to tell those stories that dead men can’t.

Primarily two cemeteries serve the town of Sutton, the Sutton Cemetery north of town and Calvary Cemetery to the south. There are also several rural cemeteries near Sutton. The Sutton Cemetery meets our purposes here so we’ll be concentrating on it.

But before heading north we’ll make one stop to the south where a person special to the Sutton Historical Society is buried. Mary M. Maltby died in Sutton in 1912 and is buried in Calvary Cemetery. She was Matilda Mary Cooke of London and married John Maltby there in 1863. They were Sutton pioneers before moving to Fairfield. Mary returned and was a part of Sutton after John died in 1895. The Sutton Museum displays two of her dresses and other memorabilia from that interesting life.

Now, north of town to the Sutton Cemetery.

The first two things to notice in the Sutton Cemetery are just inside the gate. To the left is a monument in memory of Jack Nolde who coincidently died just 25 years ago in March, 1989. Carl H. “Jack” Nolde was a philanthropist to the city of Sutton and elsewhere. One of his donations was an endowment for the benefit of the Sutton Cemetery leading to improvements and maintenance of the grounds.

Elizabeth Steinmetz and her infant daughter were
the first burials in Sutton Cemetery in 1876. There
is evidence that the infant's name was Ida Elizabeth. 
To the right is one of Jack Nolde’s gifts to the cemetery, a monument to the first burials in the cemetery, Elizabeth Steinmetz and her infant daughter in 1876. Mr. Nolde is buried just to the north behind the Steinmetz marker.

Sutton was a serious settlement in 1871, five years before that date of the “first” burials. So was there an earlier cemetery? I understand that there were burials near to downtown and the creek possibly in the park. Those bodies were moved to the new cemetery, as I have been led to believe.

Cemeteries are designed in a variety of ways, some straightforward, others not so much. Fortunately we have a directory for the Sutton Cemetery located straight in from the gate and near the maintenance building.

The cemetery is laid out in three major sections, north, south and west with the entry road dividing the north and south sections. The west section is, well, to the west. Rows are numbered and clearly marked, for instance, 03N is the third row in the north section.

The full description of a grave location is a four part item formatted as 01N-20-05-12 with each element describing an increasingly specific location, row, block, lot and grave. The directory of burials and a map of the cemetery is on the city web site at: 

You’ll note on the map that the sequence of block numbers goes across all rows in a section and that the lots within the blocks are not numbered the way you and I might have done it. Luckily, in a practical sense, knowing just the row that a grave is in with get you close enough to find the grave in short order.

Let’s move into the cemetery and make our first visit. We’ll go to that location above, 01N-20-05-12. Turn north into the North Section on the road between rows 1 and 2. You’ll quickly come to a tall, narrow stone, the grave of Luther French, the founding homesteader on the land that is Sutton. The French homestead was bounded on the north by the old DLD road, the north edge of the city park.

Families, especially the early families can be found buried together. They seem to have captured several adjacent gravesites planning ahead. Later that practice kind of died out, so to speak. Several of the French family members are buried nearby.

A better illustration of a family burial plot is just to the north of the French family where the extended family of Michael Leitner is buried marked by several substantial red stones.
Civil War Veterans made up a large percentage of the early settlers in Clay County.
This modern stone marks the grave of a Pennsylvania soldier who found his
 way to Sutton where he is buried with his second wife Susan, or Suzanna. The
findagrave.com memorial lists Phillip with six children by his first wife Catherine
 and seven with Susan, none in Sutton. Note the G.A.R. emblem.
The single largest category of noted burials is that of veterans. Various kinds of markers mounted on small metal stakes identify veterans and the conflict in which they served. Other organizations have copied that tradition and you can spend some time finding and identifying all of those.

For now, move just one row to the west to plot 02N-19-07-05 where one particular veteran is buried, Leonard Jarrett on whose grave flies a small distinctive flag bearing the stars and bars. Leonard Jarrett is one of two Confederate veterans buried in the Sutton Cemetery. And yes, if that name sounds familiar, his daughter was Sibyl Bernice Jarrett, long-time Sutton librarian and buried near her father.

A collage of several of the organizational emblems that mark members graves.
Let’s make one more stop in the north section at 04N-24-05-03, the grave of WWII veteran Paul V. Woller born 100 years ago this May 1st, science teacher to a lot of us and Sutton School Principal for 30 years. And the teacher I most credit for “getting through” to me.

Crossing the entry road to the south section in 04S is the Olinger family buried in a large “vault” reminiscent of the New Orleans cemeteries.

We next visit grave site 05S-35-04-04 to another woman who holds a special place for the Sutton Historical Society, Emma J. Gray. Emma and her husband John built the two houses on North Way Avenue which house our museum. It is not a coincidence that the historic house previously was called Aunt Emma’s Tea House. Emma’s mother, Jane Wolcott is buried in this plot.

The Grays were Sutton pioneers and John’s father Col. Hosea Gray of the 6th Iowa Infantry in the Civil War is buried in this plot. Hosea was an early Sutton attorney and partnered with his son in the lumber business.

There are a number of distinct gravestones in the Sutton Cemetery and you’ll see those as you drive through. And driving through isn’t a bad idea. A cemetery tour can take the form of a drive in the country. From most parts of town. You’ll barely break a full mile out and back and most names are readable from the road, if not the inscriptions. But it is a better walk, or bike ride.

The West section is to the back of the cemetery and is generally the more recent graves. For the most part, early graves are nearer the road and dates become more recent as you go west.

Jack Nolde's memorial to veterans is on the
left; Mrs. Bender's flagpole dedicated to
Major Johnny Bender on the right. 
Jack Nolde left us another monument located on the border between the North and West Sections where he donated a memorial to all veterans in 1940. The flagpole is nearby with a plaque from Mrs. John R. Bender in honor of The Unknown Soldier and in memory of her husband Major John R. Bender, a veteran of WWI and one of Sutton’s very best known sports figures. Major Bender is buried in plot 10N-30-05-12

To get you started on noticing distinctive stones visit plot 02W-02-05-03 where the Sack family set an attractive family stone that is partially sculptured leaving about ½ with the appearance of raw stone. I like it. Would it be asking too much to suggest that this design was inspired by Michelangelo’s Unfinished Slaves series in Florence, Italy?
Let's hear it for the Sack family - great design.

Some people have taken a lighter approach, even humor when selecting a grave stone. You’ll find a stone with a little boy fishing, some farming scenes, trucks, pictures and a few clever comments. A visit to the cemetery is what you make it. Enjoy yourself.

You can also take a tour of the Sutton Cemetery and nearly every other cemetery from your easy chair. The web site findagrave.com contains memorials for over 112 million people in most of the cemeteries in the country and a growing number overseas. A separate effort has added photographs of many of these gravesites available, as I said, from your easy chair.

The Sutton Cemetery at findagrave.com lists 3,651 memorials and about 95% have been photographed (that project was interrupted by winter – I’ll push that photographed number up in a few weeks though many that remain are unmarked and/or of unknown location.)

Findagrave.com lists more than 30 cemeteries in Clay County from those with just a handful of burials to the 3,600+ in both Harvard and Sutton. Farmers Valley Cemetery is probably the most famous in the area. The two Verona cemeteries are a good story. The Swedes are buried on the southwest corner of the intersection, the Danes on the northeast. The Saronville Lutherans are ½ mile east of town, the Methodists another ½ mile to the east and a bit north.

Sutton’s Catholic Cemetery is well south of town, the city cemetery to the north. Grafton has one cemetery, Catholics south of the road, Protestants on the north side.

Volunteers are also working to add more information about the deceased at findagrave.com. Parents, spouses, children and siblings can be identified as well as a biography. Bios often are obituaries but any form of bio can be added. These volunteers can use help to fill out the memorials and becoming a member of the site is simple enough. Contact Jerry Johnson for information.
A cemetery is a great equalizer. Dr. H. V. Nuss was the primary
source for all medical care and advice in the Sutton community
for many years. He served as mayor, served on or headed
several committees, foundations and other organizations.
He was the first person many of us met in this world. Seems
like his final resting place should tell later generations more.

Cemeteries can often be a feature of your travel plans. New Orleans cemeteries, as I mentioned earlier are all above ground as the high water table… well, it’s a problem.

The military sections of cemeteries can be particularly interesting. The Key West cemetery has a separate section for the seamen killed when the Battleship Maine sunk in Havana Harbor in 1898. The Punchbowl is a cemetery in Honolulu with a common Date of Death for many graves, December 7, 1941. A powerful image.

This article first appeared in the March, 2014 issue of Sutton Life Magazine. Contact Jarod Griess at 402-984-4203 or neighborhoodlife@yahoo.com for more information. Or LIKE Mustang Media, Inc. on Facebook.

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