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Archive for Monday, October 31, 2005

Historians tell stories behind Salina cemetery graves

October 31, 2005

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— Cemeteries are not just for the dead.

The living can learn a great deal about their community's past by taking a stroll through a local graveyard.

Beneath the headstones lie fascinating stories of community founders and pioneers, judges and journalists, veterans of foreign wars and survivors of the Civil War, young mothers who died in childbirth and children who perished in murderous circumstances, prominent businessmen resting under ornate monuments and ex-slaves lying in unmarked graves.

But headstones alone don't tell a person's entire story. The dead may be forgotten as years pass, especially in cemeteries dating back 100 years or more, such as Gypsum Hill Cemetery in east Salina.

Judy Lilly and Bob Ash knew there were many interesting people buried at Gypsum Hill, so they recently put together a self-guided walking tour of the cemetery, mapped out in a booklet that also details the histories of 30 men, women and children buried there.

Lilly, Kansas librarian at the Salina Public Library, did the primary historical research, while Ash, superintendent of parks and forestry for Salina Parks and Recreation, marked the route.

Because there are hundreds of graves spread across nearly 50 acres, Lilly said she had to pick and choose her subjects with care. "I made a list out of people I knew of or had researched in the past," she said. "I didn't want it to just be important people. I wanted a good balance of ethnic and gender, adults and children. I was looking for good stories, whether it occurred in a person's life or because of their death."

The matriarchs and patriarchs of many prominent Salina families are part of the tour, including Salina founders William A. Phillips and Alexander M. and Christina Phillips Campbell; Benjamin J.F. Hanna, who established Salina's first newspaper, the Salina Herald, in 1867; Jessie Wheeler, one of Salina's two female doctors at the turn of the 20th century; and Henry David Lee, founder of Salina's first wholesale grocery business, Lee Mercantile Co., and later the famous jeans that bear his name.

Through her research in books, records and archives, Lilly was able to uncover fascinating stories about nearly forgotten Salinans. One of the most interesting was Civil War veteran August Bondi, an Austrian Jew who emigrated to America, became a guerrilla freedom fighter with abolitionist John Brown and served with distinction in the Union Army. After the war, he moved to Salina, where he became a lawyer, local court judge and postmaster.

When he died in 1907, he was buried beneath a headstone partially carved in Yiddish.

There also is a dark side to Gypsum Hill. Dana Adams, a black man, was lynched by a mob in 1893 for cutting a white boy with a razor. He is buried adjacent to David "Napper" Taylor, a former slave and banjo player who reportedly was 117 years old when he died in 1903.

Circumstances were not so bleak for every black man or woman in 19th-century Salina. Escaped slave Larry Lapsley became the first black homesteader in Saline County. When he died at age 57, his white neighbors, Frank and Adelaide Robinson, buried him beside their infant sons.

Lilly said there are many other compelling stories scattered among the hundreds of headstones at Gypsum Hill, and she and Ash may add more names in a later edition of the booklet.

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