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Tribune: Lincoln family graves discovered

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  • Matt Hucke
    Volunteer caretaker finds Lincoln family graves after cleanup of forgotten fields By Maura Possley Tribune staff reporter Published February 13, 2006 LA HARPE,
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 13, 2006
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      Volunteer caretaker finds Lincoln family
      graves after cleanup of forgotten fields

      By Maura Possley Tribune staff reporter Published February 13, 2006

      LA HARPE, Ill. -- The weathered gravestones were overgrown with
      brush and covered with filth, but it took only a little Comet and
      some scrubbing in a long-forgotten cemetery to uncover a historic
      family name: Lincoln.

      Amid the rambling farm fields of western Illinois, as many as 12
      members of President Abraham Lincoln's extended family are buried
      in the cemetery, which is marked only by a handmade sign and doesn't
      even have an access road.

      A few people around La Harpe knew that several of Lincoln's first
      cousins were buried at the site, but it took a local resident with
      some spare time one winter to uncover the actual evidence.

      "It was amazing," said Jeff Thompson, the volunteer caretaker who
      uncovered the headstones 10 years ago. "No one had paid much attention
      to it."

      The cemetery had been forgotten by its owners until 2 1/2 years
      ago, when Catholic Church officials found burial records in some
      old files. Along with members of the Mordecai Lincoln family, about
      50 people were buried at that location, which is named St. Simon
      the Apostle Cemetery, after the church that used to stand next to

      Over the years, local historians have talked about ways to preserve
      the historic graveyard and make it accessible to visitors, perhaps
      by carving a dirt road into the fields.

      But Thompson is still the only caretaker, and the single modern
      improvement has been a hand-painted sign added in 2004.

      Local historians don't have much money to work with, and the parish
      priest is worried about disturbing the grounds.

      It's an unusual amount of restraint for a community in the Land of
      Lincoln, which commemorates the president's birthday with a state
      holiday Monday. Some towns have put up commemorative markers for
      little more than a local overnight stay by Lincoln.

      In La Harpe, though, a noteworthy branch of the Lincoln family rests
      in almost complete solitude. The family's rich story is known only
      by a few parishioners and historians, despite the patriarch's
      significance in the life of the Great Emancipator.

      Lincoln might never have been born if not for the heroic actions
      of his uncle, Mordecai Lincoln.

      When Mordecai Lincoln was a young man in Kentucky, Indians killed
      his father and captured his younger brother, Thomas, according to
      Bryon Andreasen, research historian at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential
      Library and Museum in Springfield.

      According to the personal writings of Dennis Hanks, a first cousin
      of Abraham Lincoln's, Thomas Lincoln asked the Indian holding him
      captive to spare his life. Hanks, who some say was known to exaggerate
      his tales, wrote that just as the man looked down at Thomas and
      smiled, Thomas heard the crack of a rifle. The Indian fell to the
      ground dead.

      According to Hanks, Mordecai Lincoln had shot the Indian from the
      loft of the family home by aiming at a silver half-moon ornament
      that hung on the Indian's chest.

      Historians agree that whatever the details of the encounter, Thomas
      Lincoln survived to grow up and marry Nancy Hanks. They became the
      parents of the future president.

      Today, St. Simon's cemetery is the most significant remnant of the
      Mordecai Lincoln family. Headstones for possibly a dozen family
      members were placed on the plot, with a handful of headstones still

      But historians don't think Mordecai Lincoln himself is buried in
      St. Simon's cemetery.

      The details of his death are not recorded, Andreasen said. But
      according to family lore, Mordecai Lincoln was riding his horse
      during a blizzard and never returned. According to the story, he
      was found by his family in a field, frozen to death, and was buried
      on the spot.

      For years no one tended St. Simon's cemetery, and the small graveyard
      became overgrown to the point that walking through it was impossible,
      according to Thompson.

      That was the case until Thompson, 52, a seasonal laborer from nearby
      Webster, was without a job one winter and had nothing else to do.

      For two months, he cut back brush with a chainsaw and mowed the

      To bring the remaining headstones back to their original white,
      Thompson scrubbed a few of them with Comet and a wire brush.

      The historical society is now compiling information and working
      with a state program that helps small towns create historic sites.

      But for now, Thompson is the only one tending the graves.

      "I wouldn't mind being buried back here," Thompson said. "It's nice.
      You wouldn't be bothered at all."


      mmpossley ,, tribune.com

      [apologies for posting this to the old list earlier]


      "The day will come when our silence will be more powerful than the
      voices you are throttling today." -- August Spies, 1887
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