Interesting Iowa history housed in cemeteries

Kim Brooks
Babbling Brooks
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

   I’ve shared before, but I am a huge history buff. I love to read non-fiction books as well as historical fiction.

   I recently came across a link on the “Travel Iowa” Facebook page that piqued my interest simply because it mentioned Iowa history… “7 cemeteries for history buffs.”

   The article is all about boosting Iowa’s tourism, though I don’t know many who regularly visit cemeteries as “tourists.” However, I know many people interested in family history and genealogy who visit cemeteries for research and to snap photos of their ancestors’ gravestones.

   The seven cemeteries in Iowa highlighted include:

   • Keokuk National Cemetery, Keokuk

   • Woodland Cemetery, Des Moines

   • Oakland Cemetery, Iowa City

   • Elmwood – St. Joseph Cemetery, Mason City

   • Fairview Cemetery, Council Bluffs

   • Merle Hay Memorial Cemetery, Glidden

   • Villisca Cemetery, Villisca

   Some fun facts about each…

   Keokuk, in far southern Iowa, was once home to five Civil War hospitals. Many Union soldiers were buried here. It was sold to the federal government in 1866, a year following the end of the Civil War.

   Today, 61,000 veterans spanning all wars and conflicts are buried in Keokuk.

   In 1857, Des Moines was named the capital of Iowa. Woodland Cemetery was established in 1848.

   While some well-known Iowans are buried here, what is fascinating about the tombstones are the QR codes placed on many of the gravestones. Yes, you can scan the code on the stone and stand there and read about the person’s life and history. Some of the QR codes are also videos of Iowa historians sharing the tale of the person’s life.

   I think, perhaps, QR codes might become a fad, containing the deceased person’s obituary and life story, making genealogy that much easier for people!

   Oakland is home of the famous (of popular) Black Angel statue. It was built in 1913 as a memorial to Nicholas Feldevert, the second husband of Teresa Feldevert. She traveled to Iowa City in the late 19th Century from what is now the Czech Republic.

   The cemetery is also the final resting place for many well-known people who played a role in the history of the University of Iowa.

   We all know Mason City as the home of “The Music Man.” The Elmwood Cemetery is no different. Meredith Willson and many members of his family are buried here. Willson is a playwright and wrote the book, music, and lyrics for “The Music Man.” Mason City is his birthplace.

   Council Bluffs is home to one of the oldest known burials in 1826.

   There is a monument within the cemetery that honors President Lincoln’s visit there in 1959. The monument is reminiscent of the actual Lincoln Monument in D.C.

   Amelia Bloomer is buried in Council Bluffs. She was an early suffragist and social activist. She helped reform women’s clothing with the invention of bloomers, or pantaloons.

   The Merle Hay Cemetery is known as quite the patriotic cemetery. It “celebrates our veterans through the decades.” Hay, who was born and raised in Glidden, was the first American soldier killed during WWI.

   There is a sad story behind some of the burials inside the Villisca Cemetery. It is home to the victims of the Villisca Ax Murder. The crime took place in 1912; six members of the Moore family and two family friends were murdered in the family home. To this day, no one has been charged with the crime.


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