Answer Man

Little-known cemeteries yield lively discoveries

The gravesite of Elmer “Stonewall/Stoney” Jackson and his wife, Virginia. Jackson won two state wrestling championships at Belleville Township in 1939 and ’40, and played college and professional fooball. The father of three ran Jackson’s Tavern in Belleville. He died in 1976.
The gravesite of Elmer “Stonewall/Stoney” Jackson and his wife, Virginia. Jackson won two state wrestling championships at Belleville Township in 1939 and ’40, and played college and professional fooball. The father of three ran Jackson’s Tavern in Belleville. He died in 1976. News-Democrat

Q. This is a little involved, but bear with me. On a trip back from Southern Illinois, I took Green Mount Road north from Eckert’s past Green Mount Cemetery. Traveling farther north past the road into the business park, I decided to turn right onto Green Mount Trail.

As this road turns right toward two private homes, there is a small cemetery on the right (west) side and a slightly larger one on the left (east) side. My brother, who has done a lot of research, had told me one was a Jewish cemetery, and the one on the west side was indeed Jewish. The one on the east side does not seem to be Jewish and has several people of Irish heritage named, but it is also irregularly used.

The mystery is that there is a memorial for a woman who was the wife of a Revolutionary War soldier named “Kendricks” or “Hendricks.” Her date of death was in 1775, long before Belleville was founded. A memorial stone, which lies at the foot of the original gravestone, was laid by the Daughters of the American Revolution sometime recently. So the questions are multiple: Is there still an active DAR group around here now? And how and why did a woman who died before 1776 find her way here to be buried in a small plot out in the county near what would some day be Belleville?

— Joe Reichert, of Belleville

A. I am always reluctant to correct a reader in print, but I fear you misread or misremembered the information you found on your recent visit. However, I must heartily thank you for asking because it led to one of those discoveries that momentarily knocks your socks off.

The woman in question was the daughter (not wife) of a Revolutionary War soldier, and she died in 1875, not 1775, so it wouldn’t have been at all unusual for her or her family to have settled here during her lifetime. But here’s a fact I found even more amazing: Several rows east of this woman’s plot was the gravestone of one of Belleville’s most decorated high school athletes and, as of now, the last man to be buried here.

But first things first for people like me, who didn’t even realize the cemeteries existed until this week. There are indeed two small graveyards across from each other on this narrow, dead-end lane. The somewhat more shaded one on the west with the iron fence around it is the Jewish B’nai Israel Cemetery, which, according to a historic site plaque erected by the St. Clair County Historical Society, was established in 1876. However, it wasn’t until nearly two decades later when readers of the Belleville Daily Advocate found this small notice in their weekly newspaper:

“The new cemetery recently laid out by the B’nai Israel Cemetery Association ... will be formally consecrated on Sunday afternoon (June 17, 1894) at 4 o’clock. The Rev. Leon Strauss will conduct the ceremonies.”

As you note, the cemetery has been used only sporadically. It contains only a couple of dozen graves, according to a 1981 survey. Since then, the only new grave I could find was that of Sidney Katz, owner of the former Katz Apparel at 123 E. Main St. in Belleville, who died on July 4, 1999.

The cemetery across the road is listed as either the Rider or Rider Hill Cemetery, because of its approximately 200 interments. More than a dozen are Riders and another two dozen are Hills. It is more than a half-century older than the B’nai Israel with burials dating back to 7-month-old Matthew Rider on Oct. 14, 1814.

The most celebrated Rider was the one you found: Elizabeth Hendricks Rider, who was born Dec. 13, 1792, and died Jan 5, 1875, just after her 82nd birthday. Even more special, she was the daughter of Revolutionary War soldier George Hendricks, which the Cahokia Mound Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution honored by placing a plaque on her grave on April 10, 2011. She is buried next to her husband, John, and two young sons — James, 9, and little Matthew.

Among the other graves are three Civil War veterans, according to an American Legion report issued in 1931. But the one that some old-timers here will still remember is Elmer “Stonewall/Stoney” Jackson, a celebrated metro-east prep, college and pro athlete in the 1930s and ’40s.

As a junior at Belleville Township High School in 1939, he won the state wrestling championship at 165 pounds — and repeated the feat in 1940 at 175. As captain of the school’s football team in 1939, he received all-state recognition as a guard. He went on to play college football at the University of Arkansas and Arkansas State. Then, after a stint as a petty officer in the Coast Guard during World War II, he would play a couple of years of pro ball in 1948 and 1949 with an early version of the Baltimore Colts in the All-America Football Conference, according to his obituary.

After retiring from sports, he would operate Jackson’s Tavern at 125 W. A St. and work as a truck driver. The father of three died at 54 on May 2, 1976. On Thursday, a bouquet of flowers graced his gravestone, where he is buried next to his wife, Virginia, who became the last person to be buried in the cemetery when she died in 2006.

Final notes: Yes, there are dozens of chapters of the DAR throughout Illinois, including three in St. Clair County (Belleville, Cahokia and Looking Glass Prairie in O’Fallon). For details and officers, go to www.ildar.org and click on “chapters.” For pictures of the cemeteries, go to www.findagrave.com and search for B’nai Israel and Rider.

Today’s trivia

Why did famed British actress Dame Edith Evans refuse to play Lady Macbeth, a central figure in one of William Shakespeare’s most powerful plays?

Answer to Thursday’s trivia: It was once part of the St. Louis Common, a place used as a public pasture for the livestock owned by the French who settled St. Louis. But in 1836, 30 acres of this land that is just a few blocks south of the downtown area was set aside by St. Louis ordinance 2741 as a park — the first such urban park west of the Mississippi River, according to many historians. Dedicated in 1851, it was named three years later in honor of the Marquis de Lafayette, who served under Gen. George Washington during the American Revolution. At first, the goal was just to build a fence around it to keep out grazing animals. But in 1864 municipal bonds were issued to raise $30,000 for park improvements and another $71,500 bond issue followed in 1868. Some called it folly, but Maximillan G. Kern, who later would lay out much of Forest Park, became park superintendent and began adding the landscaping and water features that turned it into a striking urban oasis. Today Lafayette Park has been rejuvenated with walking and biking trails, a duck pond, gazebo and a children’s playground. It also boasts several cannon from a British warship that bombarded Fort Moultire in Charleston, S.C., harbor in June 1776. For more fascinating facts, don’t miss “A Walk in 1875 St. Louis” now through February at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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