“Every cemetery tells a story,” says Tom Hawes, sexton of Crown Point Historic Maplewood Cemetery. “And this one has a lot of stories.”
Hawes, who believes that cemeteries are as much for the living as the dead, brings these stories to life to honor those who rest here. It’s a task that at times takes traits best found in detectives and Indiana Jones.
Crown Point was once called Robinson’s Prairie for Solon Robinson who founded the city in 1834. He opened a general store with his brother Milo and started the Region’s first newspaper in 1837 called Great Western or Western Ranger at times during its 5-year run.
Eighteen years later, he headed to the East Coast for business opportunities, leaving his wife, Mariah, mother of his six children behind. After Mariah’s death in 1872, he married his long time personal secretary, dying in Jacksonville, Fla., in 1880. And there he was until Hawes, whose children attended Solon Robinson Elementary, wondered about the name.
“My wife and I saw Jim Wirtz — then a councilman — and he said wouldn’t it be neat if we could get him back,” says Hawes, explaining what came next. Much searching revealed that Robinson was buried in Florida. Then more time was spent looking for relatives who would agree to let the body be disinterred and then reburied at Crown Point Historical Maplewood Cemetery. Finally, when all was in place, Wirtz, Hawes and two others met a funeral to director in Jacksonville to make arrangements.
“There wasn’t much left,” says Hawes. “Just some bones, as well as handles and nails from the coffin. They buried Robinson on the anniversary of Crown Point's founding within sight of the school named after him.
But the cemetery's history runs much deeper, including sections dedicated to Crown Point's war heroes and earliest inhabitants.
One of the former is Col. John Wheeler, a member of Company B, 20th Indiana Infantry, who died at Gettysburg .
Like Robinson, Wheeler too established a newspaper, the Crown Point Register, worked as a farmer and, with his father drained swamps in the Region. At the start of the Civil War, he used his own money to recruit and outfit a group of volunteers who became part of Company B. He fought at Bull Run and the Battles of Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, dying on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg when he was shot in the head while on horseback.
Wheeler is one of about 80 or so Civil War veterans buried in Crown Point Historic Maplewood Cemetery (not to be confused with Maplewood Memorial Cemetery, founded in 1928, just a row of pin oak trees away).
Civil War veterans in Crown Point Historic Maplewood Cemetery include Wheeler's brother Sgt. Oliver Wheeler who contracted typhoid fever after the Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tenn., in 1863. Johnson Wheeler, the father of both, traveled to Tennessee to care for his son and also came down with typhoid. They made it back home and were beginning to recover when the family received word of John’s death.
Oliver lived until 1921. Sgt. John J. Wheeler, the colonel’s son, enlisted a year after his father’s death, returning to Crown Point after the war to work as editor of the Lake County Star. He and his wife, Beth Holton Wheeler, are buried in Crown Point Historic Maplewood.
These graves and others are stops on the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail.
“It’s a self-guided tour of the final resting places and monuments related to the men and women in the Region who sacrificed during the Civil War,” says Erika Dahl, director of communications for the South Shore Convention & Visitors Authority, noting that it was put together by the Calumet Region Civil War Preservation Project. The project restored grave sites and compiled the stories of the men and women who served. “The trail online — www.southshorecva.com/civilwartrail — highlights the locations visitors and residents can see as well as learn more about these individuals that gave their lives from 1861 to 1865."
“We also have Native American remains here,” says Hawes. “Native Americans do not rest until their bones are in the ground. So, we created a section for them with a medicine wheel.” Hawes noted that this was in response to vandalized mounds from which bones were dug up and discarded or traded at auction.
Dale Hoppe, a former Purdue University professor who researches and photographs historic cemeteries and gravestones, describes Maplewood as extremely well kept and easy to get to as it’s right off State Road 55 and close to the town square. For historians such as Hoppe, who photographed not only Col. Wheeler’s gravesite at Maplewood but also his marker at Gettysburg, that’s a plus. Members of the Civil War preservation project have worked to ensure that the nine cemeteries on the trail have not fallen into disrepair, replacing more than 70 original markers with granite headstones.
“I've always loved history," says Hawes, who has a very personal interest in the cemetery, both of his parents as well as his son rest here. “And I don’t want people to forget those that are buried here.”