Archive for Wednesday, November 1, 2006

New plaque dedicated at Tonganoxie Cemetery

November 1, 2006

Editor's note: The following is from a speech given by Susy Ross. Ross is director of the museum at Tonganoxie Historic Site. In preparation for last Saturday's dedication of a plaque at the entrance of Tonganoxie Cemetery, commonly referred to as Hubbel Hill Cemetery, Ross researched the cemetery's past. Her speech serves as a reminder of an early-day Tonganoxie.

As in all history, this cemetery has a story. I want to tell that story now.

Editor's note: Susy Ross, director of the museum at the local historic site, talked last Saturday during the dedication of a plaque at Tonganoxie's Hubble Hill Cemetery. She concluded her presentation by reading a poem written by Joy P. "Doc" Brown, son of Charlie Brown, a world-famous ventriloquist from Tonganoxie.

Hubbel Hill

There's a choice bit of real estate

Overlooking Kansas, Tonga Town.

Where dust thou art -- to dust return:

Th' dwellers there are quite content,

No toil, no pain or strife.

Each has quarters undisturbed:

Often contrary to former life.

To paint a picture of this place,

'Twould take an artist evermore.

With pillar pines spread about --

An' blue-grass carpet on the floor.

Where the birds sing sweet lullabies,

As gentle breezes whisper low.

'Tis a privilege to reside there,

An' those who enter, never go.

Yes, there our friends an' neighbors lie,

Thru summer, winter, spring an' fall.

Each season brings its beauty,

To comfort one an' all.

No spot on Earth is more serene,

Quiet, peaceful and still.

As th' place where my family rest,

Atop o' Hubbel Hill.

Go back with me, if you will, to 1862 (144 years ago).

Kansas has been open for settlement only eight years.

The land on which we are standing -- the Diminished Delaware Reserve -- has been open for settlement for only two years.

Kansas has been a state only one year.

The town of Tonganoxie has not yet been established.

Chief Tonganoxie still lives in his lodge.

Ezra Hubbel and his wife, Rhoda Ann, move here -- buying the land right across the road and down the hill a little. The small red house you may have noticed coming up the hill, was built on the foundation of their barn. Their house was a short distance east. The steps are still there. A stone in the chimney of the red house still says "HUBBEL," carved by Ezra many years ago.

Ezra had fought in the Mexican War and the War of the Rebellion. He is 36 when he moves here. Rhoda is 33. They came with several children. We do not know all the details. But young Benton is 10 years old at the time, and has three sisters, Susan, Mary and Ella. In all, there eventually will be 12 children.

Three years later, in 1865, young Edward Hubbel is born. And two years later, in 1867, young Ezra E. is born.

Also in 1867, James and Catherine McKeehen move here and purchase this land -- where we are now standing -- across the road from the Hubbels. James is 57 years old and Catherine is 56. Catherine is James' second wife. Katie having died in 1844, leaving him with four children.

They must have immediately noticed the beauty of this hill. Perhaps that is why they purchased this land. By now Tonganoxie the town has been platted and is one year old.

One year later, in 1868 we find three people buried on this beautiful hill. They are, Alida Collins, May 20; Cora Collins, Aug. 20; and Eliza, daughter of Robert Orr, Oct. 8.

Were they neighbors? Were they relatives or friends? We do not know.

One year later, in 1869, James McKeehen lays out this cemetery. It is 16 feet square.

Then on April 2, of the same year, little 4-year-old Edward Hubbel dies. We do not know the cause. We do know that of the 12 Hubbel children little Edward had a 2-year-old brother, Ezra E.

Picture the sad community as they come to this hill to bury little Edward -- the first person buried in the "official" Tonganoxie Cemetery. Picture the horse-drawn wagons. Right here -- where we stand today.

Ten years later, little Edward's 2-year-old brother is now 12. It is April again. Young Ezra is laid to rest next to his brother -- on this beautiful hill overlooking the town and the valley. Again, we do not know the cause of death.

Not until 1888 -- 20 years later -- is a meeting held to incorporate the cemetery. Ezra Hubbel is elected as chairman of the Tonganoxie Cemetery Association.

Is it no wonder that this cemetery is sometimes called Hubbel Hill?

James McKeehen led the first efforts to clean up the cemetery. Since then many volunteers have kept the cemetery clean and trimmed. Association presidents include, but are not limited to, R.W. Freeman, George Robb, Vernon DeHoff, Tom Robb and Ed Slawson.

To add a side note about the beauty of living in a small town with a rich history, Ed's wife, Carol Slawson, draws a family connection to Rhoda Hubbel.

James McKeehen eventually gave more land for the cemetery. And the association bought several more acres at different times.

The cemetery now covers approximately 10 acres with approximately 2,000 graves in seven sections.

James McKeehen died Dec. 19, 1891, at age 81. Catherine McKeehen died Aug. 2, 1894, at age 83.

Rhoda Hubbel died Dec. 17, 1896, of pneumonia at age 67. Ezra Hubbel died Sept. 4, 1908, at age 82.

Only seven Hubbel children survived their parents, including Susan, Mary Ella, Benton and Trueman.

Many McKeehens and Hubbels are buried here.

Magdalena Bury -- our town's founder -- is buried here.

As is Charles (Jack) Hoey, Tonganoxie's silent movie star, and Charlie Brown, a world-famous ventriloquist from Tonganoxie.

-- Susy Ross, museum director, Tonganoxie Historic Site

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