Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sacred Vacation of 2010 - Final Day

I headed west...cross-country rather than down I-55 from Lincoln, IL. I wanted to check out some cemeteries that looked promising from the aerials I had google-earthed before leaving home. With my trusty 1998 Road Atlas opened to the Illinois map, my black, 3-ring binder of aerial fotos of cemeteries, and a heavy reluctance to leave Old Union Cemetery behind, I made a bee-line for Mason City, IL. From there I would zig-zag over to Virginia to see what that offered.

After passing thru Mason City, I realized I needed to take on more fuel if I was planning to wander the backroads of central Illinois. I turned around and headed back into town. After filling the tank in the MINI, I asked an older gentleman the best way to get to Virginia. He eyed me for a second, then explained, "Unless that funny-looking car can float, you best go down to Springfield, take I-74 across, then head up to Virginia. What kind of car is that anyway?"

"It's a Mini Cooper and I wanted to head over west before going down to Jacksonville."

"Can't do it. Those back roads are probably under water. I have lived here all my life...I wouldn't take the chance."

OK. Plan B. I scrubbed Virginia, IL. Maybe some other time. I headed down to Springfield, over to Jacksonville and drove into town. I stopped in an older neighborhood, along side another older gentleman mowing his yard, and asked for directions to the old cemetery. He directed me down and around, then past the high school out on the edge of town. Diamond Grove Cemetery lay out on a large tilted plane facing easterly. I could tell from a distance that it wasn't one of HWS's, but I had to go see it.

The older section of the cemetery contained family plots enclosed in concrete curbing, a distinct characteristic of the older, east coast rural cemeteries. Toward the back, up over the highest ridge, the 'newer' parts of the cemetery revealed themselves. First, here were the sections without curbing, but still containing separate family plots. These plots were laid out with the named-family's monument surrounded with the shorter markers of various family members. Further west, in the wayback near the fence row of the cornfield, was the newest section of the cemetery...the memorial park. It was hard to distinguish family plots; there were no monuments, no sense of family. The markers in this section were flush with the lawn; individual grave markers were the norm. Near the gate and up the hill, there were trees and shrubs providing softness and cover, but here, over the ridge and to the back, there wasn't any play of light and shadow. Just grass. And rows of faded, artificial flowers that had long since lost their bloom in the hot, summer sunlight. for some reason this cemetery irritated me. It was time to move on.

Quincy, IL would be my next stop. I got back onto I-74 West and did a quick calculation as to when I would get into town...sometime mid-morning on this day, Sunday, June 6th. I wanted to drive thru the old cemetery there...Woodland...but I especially wanted to visit 3 parks - 2 designed by Cleveland, and 1 designed by OC Simonds, who also expanded the design of one of Cleveland's 20 years later. HWS laid out Riverview Park along the Mississippi River and Madison Park as a neighborhood park NE of the old downtown area. Riverview Park offered a breathtakingly beautiful viewshed from the bluffs high above Miss River. I never made it to Madison Park. Completely forgot about it until I was back on the road heading north out of town. Indian Mounds, the park designed by OC Simond's, was fun to drive in the Mini. Fluid and leafy. A beautiful green belt that went on and on. Woodland Cemetery was old...again, curbing around the family plots...very beautiful, laid out on the rugged bluffs overlooking the river. Not a Cleveland, but definitely a rural cemetery.

I headed up toward Keokuk but stayed on the Illinois side to drive the Great River Road. It was a spectacular day for a leisurely drive on a 2-lane road. The verdant corridor of roadway hugged the water and the bluffs the further north I traveled. I found 2 small cemeteries in Navoo, IL., a small township and a churchyard cemetery. I was headed to Burlington, IA to check out Aspen Grove Cemetery. The aerial foto intrigued me the minute it came up on my laptop screen. Ralph Dwinel, Horace Cleveland's second son started out surveying for the CB&Q RR in Chariton, IA as a 20-something. By the time he was 30, he was still working for the railroad, but living in Burlington. When I was doing research at the Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids, IA I found the Business Directory of 1881-82 for Burlington, IA and looked up Cleveland. Sure enough, there was Ralph D., travel auditor for the CB&Q. I wondered if there might be a Cleveland connection to this cemetery.

Aspen Grove is old. Lots of curbs around the family plots. The grounds went on and on dropping into a shallow draw. The old and listing grave markers and monuments followed the swale down into the 'long view'. I walked, then circled in the Mini. Then I said, "Enough". I was ready to head home.

I think I counted a total of 20 cemetery visits on this most Sacred Vacation of 2010. Every rural cemetery dotting the Midwestern landscape is beautiful in its own way, but only a handful that I visited captured my heart and my admiration. They now occupy a place in my mind's eye. They are Graceland, Spring Grove, Old Union. These cemeteries are my inspiration. These are the burial grounds that make me believe in eternal life...that offer a final resting place for old bones to return to the soil. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

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