History and mystery

Riverside Cemetery Walking Tour offered a glimpse into the past

T-R PHOTO BY SARA JORDAN-HEINTZ - Cemetery General Manager Dorie Tammen, far left, talks to the group assembled about the Frank M. Thomas Post of the G.A.R. plot, in which Civil War veterans are buried. Saturday morning, the Marshalltown Public Library sponsored the latest installment in its walking tour series, held at Riverside Cemetery. Around 75 folks attended the 90-minute walk, learning about a total of 14 different burial plots, ranging from prominent Marshalltown families, tragic accidents, infant deaths and more.

“History is Alive at Riverside” is not only the cemetery’s slogan, but also the mindset behind the preservation of the life stories of the 23,000 plus people buried on its grounds.

Saturday morning, cemetery general manager Dorie Tammen led a group through the cemetery as part of the Marshalltown Public Library’s Walking Tour series of prominent locales in Marshalltown. Around 75 folks attended this free, public event, which focused on the stories behind 14 burials in the cemetery’s west side.

“We’re all about life-long education, so the tour fits in with that,” the library’s Public Service and Technology Manager Katie Fink said. “People want to learn about the place they live and the people who lived there before them, so this offers people that opportunity.”

The tour kicked off in the Frank M. Thomas Post of the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) lot, which is home to veterans of the Civil War, including former slaves Thomas Cottomas and Josiah French. Several graves in this lot were issued new Veterans Affairs headstones in recent years to replace broken and aged markers.

Nearby, in Section U, the stories of Nicholas Messenger, a hero at Vicksburg, and Elliot Shurtz, a veteran of both the Mexican American War and Civil War, were told.

Tammen pointed out an area of the cemetery laid out in a pie formation.

“We just call this the ‘pie section.’ It’s a circular section, divided into six pie-shaped slices,” she said. “Six families in early Marshalltown each took one of the sections and there’s this monument with the six family names on it.”

She noted that the plots are not all filled, with some being available for purchase due to their age and the cemetery being unable to track down descendants who otherwise would get first priority to the land.

The Seberg family plot in Sunset View B consists of actress Jean Seberg’s parents, Ed and Dorothy, younger brother David, and her baby, Nina Hart Gary, who died days after being born prematurely in 1970. The actress is buried in France.

Tammen allowed attendees a rare opportunity to step inside the Swearingen Mausoleum, which for decades has been fodder for believers in the supernatural. Contrary to the rumor, Catherine Swearingen, the woman for which her husband, Rev. Richard Swearingen, originally built the tomb was not buried alive there. Eight other family members rest alongside her, including her son Edward, an early telegraph operator, stationed in Galena, Ill., who handled all of General Ulysses S. Grant’s private wires during his presidential campaign. However, one real-life mystery remains. According to cemetery records, a 6-year-old boy, Richard Von Franklin, was interred in the mausoleum in 1909 after dying of croup.

“There is no visible evidence inside the mausoleum of his presence there, nor on the outside of it. We’re stumped and still researching that,” Tammen said.

The Kribs family plot, located in Section W Lot 34, literally had buried secrets. Surrounding a large Kribs monument is a series of smaller headstones.

“We ended up finding (additional) markers underground,” Tammen said. “They had sunk so you couldn’t even see them anymore. And so we raised them back up, and it was just a really cool day for me, because I felt like I was reuniting a family. We know that markers sink – supposedly about an inch every 10 years. One of our cemetery volunteers investigated and found them.”

The walk concluded with a story that has fallen into obscurity – surprising given the fact that it’s a tale of suicide linked to the daughter of one of Marshalltown’s most prominent families: Angelica and Thaddeus Binford.

Maymie Binford, who died in February 1894 of “typhoid malarial fever,” was well educated and well liked by her peers, as chronicled in an article published in the Times-Republican following her death at age 25. William Wallace, 26, a young local photographer originally from Ohio, had known Maymie socially, and became despondent in the months following her death.

“He dressed up that evening, went to the Tremont House and had a cup of strong tea that they say he downed quickly. He told the waiter goodbye,” Tammen said. “When he left, he went and got some stamps that they belief he then put on six letters that he had in his pocket – letters to Maymie’s father, to his office, to a newspaper reporter at the Times-Republican and a couple other people.”

The next morning, cemetery superintendent Sam Rubee found Wallace’s dead body draped across Maymie’s grave. He had consumed a vile of poison.

Those who would like to learn more may contact Tammen at 641-753-7891 or riverside.cemetery@yahoo.com or check out the cemetery’s Facebook page. Read Tammen’s “History is Alive at Riverside” column in the T-R’s monthly Past Times publication.

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Contact Sara Jordan-Heintz at 641-753-6611 or sjordan@timesrepublican.com