Highland News Leader

Project highlights historic aspects of Highland City Cemetery

Highland’s first immigrants are prominently recognized at the Highland City Cemetery.
Highland’s first immigrants are prominently recognized at the Highland City Cemetery. News Leader

The Highland City Cemetery is not only a final resting place to many. It contains a wealth of information on the city’s 178-year history. And unlocking that history has recently been made easier.

The city recently erected a kiosk and placed 15 markers that highlight the city founders and other Highland prominent residents who are buried inside the cemetery.

In early 2012, the city entered into a contract with Taylor Studios Inc. to come up with an interpretive plan to enhance the experience for those visiting the cemetery for historical purposes.

Taylor Studios operates out of Rantoul, Ill., but has done work for Cahokia Mounds Historical Site in Collinsville and the St. Louis Zoo, among others.

To supplement the tour, the city has produced a brochure that provides biographical information about each of the highlighted individuals, including who they are and where they came from.

The brochures are available in the kiosk inside the cemetery.

The city has also placed three color-coded panels that detail historic locations. Blue markers have also been placed throughout the cemetery that identify monuments to prominent people and families

Below is a synopsis about the sites on the tour.

Founders Monuments

Dr. Koepfli of Sursee, Switzerland, had long desired to lead a colony of his countrymen to the U.S.

In 1831, he completed arrangements for the immigration and persuaded a number of his relatives and friends to go with him. Among the people with him, included his wife, three of their sons, two daughters, two nephews (Joseph Suppiger Sr. and Anthony Suppiger), a hired girl and a carpenter. Four other men from Swiss localities also made the trip. After a lengthy voyage, they arrived in St. Louis, where some of the men obtained work.

Dr. Koepfli and his family devoted themselves to looking for parts of Missouri that could be settled, but Missouri did not suit them at all. Much of it was timber, which would need to be cleared before it could be cultivated. He also did not like that Missouri was a slave state.

He turned his attention to Illinois. They headed to Vandalia, then the capital of Illinois, to find out how to acquire land titles. They were not pleased with the amount of wooded areas in Illinois, either. They took a different route back to St. Louis, when he came upon the Looking Glass Prairie.

Dr. Koepfli decided that the wooded edge of the Looking Glass Prairie was where he and his family would settle, and they promptly acquired the land. Dr. Koepfli’s residence north of Highland would become a center for the people in the new settlement. His home was the first refuge sought by all the immigrants.

But when it came to naming the new town, the founders could not agree. Joseph Suppiger Sr. and Dr. Koepfli favored names such as Helevita or New Switzerland.

Four years after Joseph Suppiger Sr. died in 1833, his son Joseph Suppiger Jr., founded Highland in 1837.

Schiller Chapel

From its settlement in 1831 and onward, Highland attracted immigrants from Switzerland and southern Germany. The more well-to-do of these families would travel back to visit their homelands.

In the summer of 1875, a group of Highland residents decided to make one of these trips. They were led by John Suppiger, one of Highland’s original settlers. Accompanying Suppiger on the trip was his wife, Catherine, their 20-year-old daughter, Adeline, and 7-year-old son, John. Other residents on the trip, included John’s nephew, Louis G. Suppiger, and Christian Hirni, a retired farmer and native of Switzerland.

The Suppigers had earlier traveled by train to New York City, where they boarded the steamship, the Schiller, which later encountered bad weather just southwest of England.

Approximately 20 miles from the southern tip of England, the ship hit a rock, causing the ship to sink. Of the 400 people aboard the ship, only 44 survived.

In 1884, the Schiller Shipwreck Chapel was erected in the cemetery. The chapel is used today for funerals and occasionally for weddings.

Suppiger Monuments

In addition to the chapel, two memorials in the cemetery also recognize the Schiller accident.

The Suppiger Memorial and Monument was named for John Suppiger and his family, who went down with the ship.

The south face of John Suppiger’s monument depicts the sinking of the Schiller, complete with high waves, a lighthouse, and a portion of the ship’s bow visible among the waves.

The memorial for Dr. Suppiger stands on the highest hill in the Old Cemetery section. Dr. Suppiger had recently graduated from medical school before his fateful trip on the Schiller. An inscription on his memorial is written in German and refers to the shipwreck.

Spindler Momuments

John Jacob Spindler came to Highland from Basel, Switzerland. After trying distillery and milling businesses, he opened a large general store.

In 1883, his son, John Jacob Spindler Jr., helped form the Highland Swiss Embroidery Works. He had been trained along merchandising lines and became the company’s main salesperson. When he died in 1916, his associates and his son, Julius, continued the “Works” until it closed during the Great Depression. Later, Julius became the president of Farmers and Merchant Bank.

The Spindlers, having made their fortune in Highland businesses, decided to give something back to the city, a city park with a playground, ball field and tennis courts.

Latzer Monuments

Louis Latzer was known as “The Father of Pet Milk.”

Latzer was born in 1848 and died in 1924. He was educated at nearby McKendree College in Lebanon and at Illinois Industrial University in Champaign, Ill. He returned to Highland after his father died in 1869, so that he could run the family’s farm. In 1887, he took over the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co.

Said to have been a keen student of chemistry and bacteriology, Latzer was curious about why milk spoiled. Product spoilage was a huge problem, which had reach drastic proportions prior to his taking over the reigns of Helvetia.

Latzer perfected the process of condensing milk, and the company became a huge success. In 1922, the Helvetia Milk Condensing Co. became the Pet Milk Company, with 23 plants across the U.S.

Latzer built his Highland homestead for his wife and family in 1901. The home had many modern features of the day, including running water pumped by hand to a holding tank in the attic, a manufactured gas light system, speaking tubes between many of the rooms and one of the first telephones in the community.

Ruegger Monuments

The Ruegger family has at least four generations buried in the cemetery. The first burial was that of J. George Ruegger in 1869, located in the the Old Cemetery.

Weinheimer Family Monuments

Henry and Anna Marie Weinheimer were pioneers of Highland. Their son, Frederick Weinheimer, always had a place in his heart for Highland. When he died in Florida in 1948, he bequeathed $150,000 to the city to finance the construction of a public community center and gymnasium as a memorial to his parents.

“The Rows”

“The Rows” is the only cemetery block that has remained open throughout the history of the cemetery. It can still accept new burials. But it is also the only block where graves are marked with a numerical description and the only block where the chronology of burials moves from east to west, versus west to east. In many cases, the original marker has been removed and another has been erected.

The people buried in the in earliest rows of this block were often single or the last survivors of their families, transients or persons who had not made arrangements before their deaths.

Infant Section

Row W of “The Rows” block was used exclusively for the burial of young children and infants from families that did not own other family grave spaces elsewhere in the cemetery. The most recent infant burial was in 1987.

Weder Monuments

August Weder was one of the founders of Highland Dairy Farms Co. He was also director of the local First National Bank. His grandparents arrived on the prairie in a wagon train with their children and their families in 1829.

August’s wife, Julia Weder, was born on April 28, 1873. Her parents had both immigrated from Switzerland at about 1850.

Homer Poss Monument

Homer Poss moved to Highland in 1945 after serving as a paratrooper in World War II. Poss served two, four-year terms as Highland’s police magistrate, a two-year term as associate judge for the Third Judicial District, and three terms as a city councilman and two terms as mayor of Highland.

Strub Monument

Many monuments in the cemetery show a finger pointed skyward. But the Strub Momument, believed to be that of Katharina Strub, shows a finger pointed downward. No one, however, seems to know the explanation.

Related stories from Belleville News-Democrat

  Comments