Three old marble tombstones inscribed with names and dates reside in pieces (if not in peace) in the Village of Cooksville’s historic Duncan House Barn. They have been in storage there for many decades—obviously not where they were intended to be.
Where did those grave markers come from? How did they end up there? Who were those three people memorialized with their names carved into marble on three weathered, broken headstones, one with a traditional weeping willow at the top? All three died in the 1850s, according to their inscriptions.
Not much was initially known except the names and dates, so an attempt has been made recently to try to get to know some of the “unknowns.”
What little was known to begin with was that the pieces of the three memorial stones were discovered (or “rediscovered”) in 1989. Two were lying face-down on the grounds of the Backenstoe-Howard House—the “Waucoma Lodge—in Cooksville, apparently as a path to the front door; the third was lying inside the neighboring Duncan House Barn adjoining the property, all far from their purposed use, waiting for their mysteries to be solved. All are now in that barn.
And although mysterious ghostly apparitions have reportedly roamed the village over the years, sometimes inside houses, none of the reports of “wandering souls” seemed to be connected to these three tombstones resting—perhaps restlessly— in broken pieces in the old village barn. Or was there a connection? After all, the deaths of the three people do seem untimely and unsettling.
At any rate, the first and most important clues were the three inscriptions on the stones, as follows:
Laura Wells Hicks marker: “Laura W. wife of James Hicks Died Mar. 6, 1857 Æ 33 yrs.”
Laura W. Hicks (1824-1857)
Alexander Richardson marker: “Alexander Richardson died Jan. 12, 1852 Æ 38 yrs Native of Selkirk in Scotland. Tho’ Lost to sight In Memory dear.”
Alexander Richardson (1814-1853)
Anthony Warren marker: “In Memory of Anthony Warren Native of Suffolk Eng. Who died May 21, 1851, Æ 27 yrs. He is not lost but gone before.”
Anthony Warren (1824-1851)
All three headstones may have been removed from their original locations or “rescued” in an attempt to save them from destruction or loss or maybe because two were damaged. But were they from a nearby cemetery? Or?
One complicating factor is that the present Cooksville Cemetery was not established until 1861, so these 1850s gravestones could not have been erected there upon their deaths. (In 1861 John Porter sold the land for $25 to establish the new grave yard by the “Waucoma Cemetery Association,” the cemetery’s first name.) Also, there are three other cemeteries elsewhere in the Town of Porter: the Ball Tavern, St. Michael’s, and Fulton cemeteries. And occasionally, some farm families buried their relatives on a quiet corner of the family farm. In other words, burials happened elsewhere in the area.
The Village of Cooksville, founded in 1842 (and Waucoma, next-door, in 1846) undoubtedly was visited by the Grim Reaper before 1861 and his victims were buried somewhere. Records indicate that there was an earlier local burying ground in use before 1861 but it was abandoned in that year. Those first burials were west of the Cooksville General Store, off Spring and Mills streets— streets that like the burying ground have been vacated. The records vary but generally indicate that those earliest burials and tombstones were (possibly) moved to the new1861 cemetery.
Research of the Cooksville Archives and the Cooksville Cemetery records along with visits to the Cooksville Cemetery itself clarified some of the mystery of the tombstones, or at least helped provide some clues. The following has been revealed so far:
Laura W. Hicks
In the case of the Laura Wells Hicks’ broken tombstone, cemetery records indicate that she was eventually buried (and remains buried) in the present Cooksville Cemetery but without a tombstone of her own. She is buried in the southern-most “Old” section of the cemetery where early burials were not done in an orderly fashion as in the later surveyed sections that have numbered blocks and lots. Therefore, exact locations of some “old” burials (and possible re-burials) in that section may be unknown and unmarked.
Also, instead of her own grave marker the new cemetery, Laura Wells Hicks’ name and dates are inscribed on one side of a tall four-sided family memorial monument with its base labeled “Miller.” On the other three sides two Miller family members and one Cole family member are memorialized. All four are related to each other. It may be presumed that Hicks’ actual burial site is somewhere nearby.
Perhaps Laura Hicks’ broken gravestone was removed from the first burying ground or from the Cooksville Cemetery at some point in the past because it was broken but was not repaired and was not replaced. Perhaps then her name was added to the Miller monument with the three others. And her own personal broken gravestone ended up in the village barn.
Why Laura Hicks’ gravestone was not repaired and placed or re-placed in the Cooksville Cemetery is unknown. It would be possible now, of course, to repair and re-erect her old marble tombstone since she is listed as being buried there.
In the case of Alexander Richardson’s gravestone, the fact that it now is in the Duncan barn is recorded in notes in the Cooksville Archives, and they provide the answer. It most likely was an attempt to save his stone from possible loss or abandonment many decades ago.
Here’s the story: Richardson’s original grave site was on his family farm southeast of Cooksville. He was born in 1814 and died at a young age from a farm wagon accident on an icy road. (Either he was hauling a wagon-load of lumber from Indian Ford that fell on him, or he was returning from Milwaukee when he fell off the wagon because he was drunk and was killed, according to two differing stories of his accidental death.) He was buried on his family farm, probably somewhere behind the historic Richardson Grout House southeast of the village
According to Archive notes, Richardson’s son, Alexander, Jr., removed his father’s gravestone in about 1886 from that Richardson family burial site because the farm was to be sold to the John Porter family. Perhaps the son removed it hoping to preserve the gravestone from possible loss or neglect. The stone was stored in his son’s barn on the historic Van Vleck House property in Cooksville, which the son used as a summer home. Later, when that village property was to be sold by the Richardson family in 1955, the gravestone itself was sold to E. Marvin Raney, the Cooksville historian and antique collector who lived nearby in the Duncan House at the time. Raney stored the stone in his own barn there. No doubt, Raney bought the stone to keep it in the village and to preserve it, and there it has remained.
Thus, the present resting place of Alexander Richardson’s original “rescued” gravestone is about two miles from his actual grave on the old family farm. Past attempts to locate the exact burial site were unsuccessful.
In the case of Anthony Warren’s mysteriously absented tombstone, nothing is known at this time—not where it came from nor why it ended up in the village, nor anything else about his life.
Perhaps as with Hicks’ stone, Warren’s stone may have been removed from the old abandoned burying ground and never placed at his new burial site, wherever that is. It’s possible his burial was in another distant cemetery or on a farm. At any rate, Warren’s burial site is not recorded in the Cooksville Cemetery’s records. His stone’s mystery remains.
The research continues. More information, perhaps shared by relatives or others, is needed to fully resolve all the gravestones’ peripatetic histories, especially the story of Warren and his lonesome monument. All the gravestones presently remain in the Duncan barn and not in a cemetery.
The historic Cooksville Cemetery is part of the Cooksville Historic District listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Its many lovely, old, fading memorial stones (and many new ones) mark burials of friends and relatives since 1861; some even memorialize people who are not buried there.
Under old pine trees and amongst shrubs and flowers, many early pioneers and settlers are interred in the old cemetery, including some of their children and grandchildren. Also buried there are veterans of the Civil War and the five (or more) succeeding wars, as well as many Norwegian immigrant families and recent residents of Cooksville and Porter Township, along with many friends of Cooksville— people young and old, but hopefully, not too young. The earliest born person interred is Charlotte Rose Love (1772-1868). All are resting in peace on the southern edge of historic Cooksville, next to farm fields and near the historic Cooksville Lutheran Church.
But time takes its toll even on marble and granite stones—and on a few of the tall old pines trees as well. A few old grave markers have been damaged and are resting in pieces in need of repairs, and some need to be straightened and anchored in place.
The Cooksville Cemetery Association continues its efforts to maintain, repair and improve the beautiful historic cemetery to ensure that the quiet historic burying ground remains as it has been for one-hundred and fifty-six years.
And there is space available for others who may need a peaceful spot to rest for eternity—hopefully not too soon. And the Cemetery Association welcomes financial donations to assist its efforts. Contact Anne Haines (608) 201-1996 or go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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[Thanks to Cooksville’s past historians for saving clippings, notes, diaries and other records now in the Cooksville Archives, and thanks also to Jim Danky, Chris Beebe, Mark Verstegen, Jennifer Ehle and Helen Porter for helping to tell the stories of the tombstones. Larry Reed]