History of Oakland Cemetery

Source: Clinton County Advertiser, Wednesday Evening, January 19, 1876

History of Oakland Cemetery. By J. Q. Root.

From time immemorial it has been the custom of all men to lay away their dead with solemn and imposing ceremonies.  Three methods of disposition have been in vogue at various stages of the world's history.  Mummification was practiced by the Egyptians from the most remote period to the 6th century of the christain era.  The Hebrews in general buried their dead, and from them the custom has been handed to us.  The Greeks both buried and burned their departed, and cremation was very prevalent amongst them.  The Romans generally buried their dead.  At a very early period it was the custom to bury in church yards.  In London, in some of the poorer districts, the soil was raised several feet, and in the immediate neighborhood epidemic diseases became both prevalent and fatal.  Within 30 years there were interred in a space of 318 acres 1,500,000 bodies.  The church years having in time become so filled with decomposing bodies, and the settlement of the towns having caused the occupancy of the premises so near to the burial grounds as to seriously effect the public health, it became a matter of public necessity to establish cemeteries more remote from the centers of business and residence places.  It was in pursuance of this idea that our "City Fathers" selected the site of our city cemetery, of which I will endeavor to give a brief and perhaps imperfect sketch.

Oakland Cemetery is situated upon a beautiful hill-side, with gentle slope to the North and West.  The land was originally covered by a beautiful though neglected grove of native oaks, and it was from this it derived its name.  At a meeting of the City Council of Lyons on Oct. 14, 1856, Alderman Benj. Lake offered a resolution that the Mayor procure a deed of 20 acres, more or less, of Shwbael [sic] Coy, for a City Cemetery.  Alderman Root moved a postponement for one week, which was done.  At the next meeting, Oct. 21, 1856, Ald. Lake called up the matter, and, on a motion of Ald. Mathews, it was carried.  This was the first standing point for procuring a permanent resting place for our lamented dead.

Prior to this time, burials had been made in the grave yard near the Hess school house, which was the best kept and most attractive place then set apart for this purpose.  Many burials were also made upon the high point of land north of the house now occupied by ex Mayor Joyce, but this ground was never purchased for the purpose, and the Randall estate never parted with a title or gave a legal right for its use for that purpose.

In this connection it might not be inappropriate to refer to the beautiful elevation north of our city known as 'Lone Grave'.  At an early day when the steamboats occasionally passed up the river, and before a town had been started at this point, a child was buried upon this hill by the parents who were passing by.  This is the first grave known in this vicinity, of a white person.

After the formal opening of the City Cemetery, and during the year 1857-8, the remains of nearly all of the bodies buried on the Randall hill and many of those buried at the Hess yard, were removed to it.

The first interment made in the Cemetery was that of Mrs. David Toll, who died at her residence in the building situated near the southwest corner of Main and Water streets, now occupied by Chas. Walker.  Her husband was a manufacturer of brooms in the first, and they resided in the second story.  This occurred early in the spring of 1857.  The bearers were P. T. Roe, Wm. W. Jerome, P. B. Gaylord and J. Q. Root.  Her grave is not marked by a tomb stone.  Her husband planted two cedar trees near her grave, and they are now quite large.  Her grave is situated near the southeast corner, just on top of the elevation and these trees serve to make a permanent and prominent mark for those who seek it.

Since the opening of this Cemetery nearly all who have died in our city have been buried there excepting those of the Catholic faith who have been interred in either the grounds almost three miles West or in the German grounds near the City Cemetery, and many fine monuments and improved lots ow render the Cemetery an attractive resort for those who love to keep the memory of the departed ever fresh and green.  Within its border lie reposing all that remains of many of our neighbors and friends who responded to the call of their country, and sprant to her rescue to offer their lives upon the alter of liberty.  So dear is their memory to every patriot that I cannot make this sketch complete without making mention of those I find marked by tomb stones, and with the regret that I do not know and remember all, whether marked or without a monument, who have died for the general welfare.  Fernando Rupert, wounded at Fort Donelson February 15th, 1862, Died at Mound City, March 9, of the same year; Elleot H. Calender, of the 140th Illinois Regiment, Died while in service Oct. 15th, 1864; James P. Douglass, wounded at Arkansas Post Jan. 11th, Died February 7th, 1863; Albert E. Winchell, the first brave boy from Lyons to fall, Died of a gun shot wound at Macon City June 22nd, 1861; Wm. H. Blakely, wounded at Arkansas Post, Died at memphis, Jan. 18, 1863; John Wilson, Died at Helena, Ark Dec. 6, 1869; Col. Noel B. Howard, who was a brave and honored soldier, returned at the close of the war and died February 21st, 1871.

There have no doubt been many incidents connected with this cemetery that might be mentioned, but for lack of space I will only cite one, and the most startling of all -- the death of Joseph Wilson.  It seems such a strange incident to die by the graves of those gone before.  He was at work on July 1st, 1875, upon the stone work surrounding my lot.  He had just finished placing the third stone when he said what proved to be his last words on earth, "This stone is just in line" -- he put his hand upon his breast and said "I am going to have another attack" and fell dead at my feet.  So strange and remarkable was this incident that I have had the letter W. cut upon the inside face of the identical stone he had finished, and which marks the spon on which he breathed his last.

The name of "Oakland Cemetery" was not adopted until during the fall of 1875, when I handed to Mr. M. H. Westbrook a personal petition that the same be presented to the Council as an appropriate one and that a sign be ordered painted and placed over the gates.  Mr. Westbrook as Alderman presented a resolution to that effect, which was passed.

And now in conclusion, I hope that this Cemetery now made sacred by containing within its inclousure many of our loved one, and to which we are every day reaching nearer unto, may be never neglected by our city authorities, and that they will find time while attending to the best interests of the city of the living to give a thought to the improvement of the "City of the Dead."