Today we begin a series of articles to entice you to TAKE A SHORT TRIP to an interesting community on the west edge of Lexington where you can take a slow, leisurely drive and see some novel sights. They practice social distancing there, you won’t even have to get out of your car, and it’s all FREE! Yes, it’s our beautiful “necropolis” or “city of the dead”- Lexington Cemetery. Each week we will share stories, locations, and maybe a few mysteries to entice you to come take a close-up look at the treasures among us. The section numbers begin at the east side 1 -8. Sections 9 – 17 are in the north half - the more recently developed area.
For Part 1 of our tour we saw Ephraim Edward’s spooky looking plot 120 and the Blake plot at the top of section 1 near the shed, so now proceed south on the second road nearly to the end. Looking right, find a large boulder sitting in Section 3. The engraving on the large rock says ARBOGAST and a smaller one to the side has a name and dates. Benjamin Franklin Arbogast, born in 1829 in West Virginia, married Cinthia Nicholas in 1855, and made his way with wife and family to the “promised land of the west.” By 1865 they arrived in Lexington and, as a carpenter, he prospered and remained for the rest of his life. Their family included 8 children.
Among classic markers shaped from blocks of granite in the Lexington Cemetery are a few big surprises - memorials shaped like TREES! These markers were chosen when new customs surrounding death were focusing on the deceased’s life and loved ones left behind. A tree became the symbol of eternity, recalling the Bible’s “tree of life” references. Standard tree shapes were shipped to the engravers and decorations, like birds, books, firearms, flowers, plants, anchors, animals, and any other symbols that were meaningful to the deceased, could be added to the tree.
Lexington Cemetery is the final home for nearly 90 Civil War Veterans. We will point out a few soldier markers and you will notice many more on your drive. In SECTION 1 remember Ephraim Edwards, an Englishman brought to America, became an orphan in Ohio, served in Co. A 49 th Ohio Vol. Inf. and was one of the most wounded soldiers to survive the war. Another previous mention on our tour was J.P. Curry (log marker) who served in Co E 3 rd Regiment of the West Virginia Inf. On the same lot is George Michael Hefner, born to Peter and Betsy Hefner in 1846, joined Co C of the 94 th Illinois as a teenager and marched off to the war, which quickly made many Lexington boys into men!
With Memorial Day still in our hearts and our local Legion celebrating their 100th year, our focus for this tour is on US soldiers of the early 20 th century who fought for the first time overseas. We have several Spanish American War Veterans and nearly 50 WWI Veterans laid to rest in the Lexington Cemetery. On the first road look left in SECTION 2 for a military pair - father Orselle Arnold Bray served in Troop B 1st Ill Vol Cav in the Spanish American War, came home, married Grace Wood and 20 years later his only son Wayne Wood Bray served in Co B 1 st Engineers in the Army of Occupation in Germany during WWI – “like father, like son”- and grandfather Bray had been in Civil War, too!
Over 90 WWII Veterans are now “at home” in Lexington Cemetery. The beautiful display of flags at each grave for Memorial Day was poignant evidence that we have a very patriotic necropolis, with nearly one in ten having served our country. Thanks to our American Legion and friends for their efforts to help remember and honor all area veterans. Our Lexington Cemetery tour continues through the older part of our cemetery sharing the stories of a few of these heroes.
Mausoleums have been used since time began for burials of kings, nobility, or the very rich, but they still tend to be unique and a bit mysterious. In Section 5 of Lexington Cemetery notice a small stone building with an imposing barred door that invites the question, “What’s in there?” The lettering on the decorative roof edge and pediment over the door announces “JESS – 1891” but leaves one wanting to know more. The inhabitants are Michael Jess (1842-1890) and his wife Mary Kilgore Jess (1844-1924), with a simple tomb built about the same time as the Kemp Mausoleum.
Our tour of the Lexington necropolis this week points out local entertainers who attained fame. W H Bishop, born in the east in 1835, developed a talent for playing the cornet into a career, long before he came to Illinois about 1875. He was the famous minstrel “Harry Robinson,” owner of his own show called “The Man with the Silver Horns.”
The Langstaff-VanLeer Mausoleum, north of SECTION 7 in the Lexington Cemetery, is larger than the Jess Mausoleum, not nearly as flamboyant as Kemp Mausoleum, but with a story that will explain several places still relevant today. The 1896 tomb structure was built just a few years after the other two private mausoleums were placed in the Lexington cemetery.