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Interesting Findings And World Unfolding Through My Eyes.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Weirdest Grave

Here’s the story behind one of the most peculiar (and most popular) grave sites in the entire United States. More than 60 years after it was completed, it still attracts tens of thousands of visitors a year.


In the mid-1870s, a college student named John Davis was forced to drop out of Urania College in Kentucky after his parents died and he was unable to pay tuition. He became an itinerant laborer, taking work wherever he could find it, and in 1879 he signed on as a farmhand for Tom Hart, a wealthy landowner in tiny Hiawatha, Kansas. Davis was a good worker, but that didn’t count for much when the penniless lad fell in love with Sarah Hart, the boss’s daughter. When the two announced their plans to marry, Mr. and Mrs. Hart, furious that Sarah would marry so far beneath her station, disowned her.


Ever heard the expression "living well is the best revenge"? John and Sarah got back at the Harts by becoming one of the most prosperous couples in Hiawatha, though it took them a lifetime to do it. After scraping together enough money to buy a 260-acre farm, they managed it so wisely that they were able to use the profits to buy a second farm, which also did well. Then, after 35 years of living in the country, the childless couple moved to a stately mansion on one of Hiawatha’s best streets. They were still living there in 1930, after more than 50 years of marriage, when Sarah died from a stroke.

At first John commissioned a modest headstone for Sarah in Hiawatha’s Mount Hope Cemetery, but soon decided it wasn’t enough. He’d never forgotten how Sarah’s family had spurned them when they had nothing; now that they were more prosperous than the Hart clan, he decided that he and Sarah should be laid to rest in the nicest, most expensive memorial in town.


Davis was friends with a local tombstone salesman named Horace England, and together the two men designed a memorial consisting of life-size marble statues of John and Sarah as they looked on their 50th wedding anniversary. The statues would stand at the foot of the graves and face the headstones; the cemetery plot would also be protected from the elements by a 50-ton marble canopy supported by six massive columns.

England stood to make a small fortune on such a grandiose memorial. Even so, he suggested that it might be a little much, especially considering that the country was in the depths of the Great Depression and folks in Midwestern towns like Hiawatha had been hit especially hard. Davis thanked him for his opinion and then offered to give the business to another tombstone salesman. England assured Davis that that would not be necessary and committed himself wholeheartedly to the task at hand. As far as anyone knows, he never raised another objection.

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