The Answer Man uncovers the mysteries of Mascoutah cemeteries

News-DemocratJuly 20, 2013 

The Mascoutah City Cemetery is on County Road, up from the high school. But just across the road in the residential neighborhood is a tiny space with just a few headstones. Why are they there? Did they start the cemetery on one side and then change their minds? -- Denise Rich, of Mascoutah

What you see as you drive north on County Road is, in a sense, a dramatic side-by-side example of the evolution of burial customs.

On the right are the remnants of a small family graveyard from the days when people often were buried where they lived -- on their farm. You'll find dozens and dozens of such small cemeteries in St. Clair County alone if you search the county genealogical society's list of graveyards at stclair-ilgs.org.

Then, just across the street, you have the typical large community cemetery that you're probably more accustomed to seeing. Between the two, you can dig up a revealing look into 176 years of Mascoutah burials.

Like most such plots, the tiny cemetery now almost lost amid the well-kept homes is known by its family name. Most historians seem to call it the Schnebelin Cemetery, although you can find references to it as the Heinrich and Walters Farm Cemetery, according to Teri Bromley, the genealogical society's cemetery chair.

In any case, that tiny cemetery was on a farm originally owned by Mathias Heinrich, who immigrated here from Gaiberg, Baden, Germany. According to Bromley's records, 35 family members and at least one neighbor's daughter were buried there over the years. It started with Mathias' daughter Julia in 1847 and continued right up to 1943 with the death of Louisa Schnebelin, one of Mathias' granddaughters, according to Marilyn Welch, of the Mascoutah Historical Society.

Most of the stones before 1870 are gone. The small graveyard is right behind Mayor Jerry Daugherty's house, so he has helped maintain the site, according to Tom Snyder, of the Mascoutah Historical Society.

But as the Heinrichs were settling in on their farm, the nearby village of Mascoutah needed a suitable resting place for its residents. In 1853, it bought an acre of land from the Eisenmayer family for the Lincoln Lake Cemetery, which is now at the corner of Lake and South streets, Snyder said.

But by the end of the Civil War, Lincoln Lake was already filling up, so the city looked for bigger digs, so to speak. So, in 1866, it opened the present-day Mascoutah City Cemetery.

It apparently was just serendipitous that it was across the road from the Heinrich farm, where young Julia had been buried 19 years before. You have to remember that the entire area was all rural farmland back then. Even burial practices at the new city cemetery were a bit unusual.

"In the beginning, they buried everyone as they died," Snyder said of the city cemetery. "So you can go down through the grave markers that survive there in the very front of the cemetery, and they are chronological -- not by family. I think it was the late 1870s when they started dividing space into (family) lots."

That's not the end of the story. Along with the Lincoln Lake cemetery in town, Holy Childhood of Jesus Church in 1858 established a Catholic cemetery on what is now Eidmann Road at Illinois 177, a couple miles west of town. Then, in 1884, ground for the current Holy Childhood Cemetery was purchased just behind the city cemetery, so now there are actually three cemeteries in close proximity to each other.

Snyder says he is hoping to breathe new life into the old Lincoln Lake Cemetery, where fencing, trees and many old tombstones were removed about 50 years ago to make maintenance more convenient.

"It's sort of a disgrace," Snyder said. "The Historical Society was really upset. Now they just mow it as if it's an empty field."

He says the society is trying to find funding so that soundings can be made to find where all the graves are and a new cemetery sign can be erected. Such a marker is long overdue, he said, because that cemetery is hallowed ground for a half-dozen Civil War vets -- a topic of particular interest for Snyder, who is ready to publish a book on Mascoutah's Civil War contribution in conjunction with his society's Civil War exhibit slated for next April.

And, if you're interested in learning more, Snyder hopes to offer an encore of last October's overwhelmingly successful ghost walk that was held as part of the city's 175th anniversary.

Today's trivia:

How did the duffel bag get its name?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: Steel magnate and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie hated football. According to a PBS special, he felt it groomed America's young men for a life of violence and deception. So, during a trip to Princeton University in 1904, he reportedly said, "I know exactly what Princeton needs, and I intend to give it to her. It is a lake." Two years and $400,000 later, Princeton had a new lake so it could better compete against Ivy League schools in rowing, a far more gentlemanly sport. However, when Carnegie was asked for another donation at the first regatta, he said, "I have already given you a lake," to which then college President Woodrow Wilson reportedly replied, "We needed bread and you gave us cake."

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

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