Home Doll market Time Machine: Mary’s Lonely Grave

Time Machine: Mary’s Lonely Grave

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The gravestone of 6-year-old Mary Wright sits on a railroad right-of-way along Highway 6/151 in Iowa County near Homestead. The child was buried there in 1854 when her family lived across the road and the train tracks were part of a large pioneer cemetery. (Meredith Langton)

Mary Emily Wright died at the age of 6 on August 19, 1854, in her parents’ log cabin along the road that would become Highway 6/151 in Iowa County. She was buried in the cemetery opposite her home.

His well-maintained grave rests on a small strip of land between the highway and the train tracks. Several people have reported seeing an ethereal blue light above his tombstone in the last minute before the start of a new year.

“The Little Grave”

Newell Wright moved his family west from Indiana to Iowa in 1849, settling in 1850 in a location near where Homestead would be established in 1855. Homestead became one of the colonies of ‘Amana in 1862. The Wrights operated a stage station and meat market there.

Mary died of an unknown cause in 1854.

When the Mississippi & Missouri Railroad (later Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific) line passed in 1860, most of the graves in the cemetery would have been moved, but railroad officials agreed to preserve Mary’s grave on the hold. maybe because the Wrights lived so close.

This photo of Mary Wright’s grave appeared in the July 1912 edition of Rock Island Employees’ Magazine with an article about the grave written by OH Eichacker, station agent at Homestead. (Public domain)

One of the earliest published accounts of “The Little Grave on the Right-of-Way” was in the Rock Island Employees Magazine of July 1912. Written by railroad agent OH Eichacker, it included a photo of the burial ground lonely.

Nate Wright of Stuart, in west-central Iowa, told Eichacker the grave was that of his sister Mary, the daughter of Newell and Mary Wright.

“They lived in Johnson County the first winter and moved to the west side of where Homestead is in 1850 and built a double log cabin house, where they kept a stage station for many years, the house being known as ‘Wright Stage Station,'” Wright said. “It was in this cabin that my little sister died.”

The cemetery where she was buried, he said, had “a large number of people buried there. But in the primitive times of which we speak, only wooden slats were used to mark the resting places of those who were buried there. The cemetery was called ‘The Linus Niles and Sprague Cemetery’.

“Then the railroad moved the roadbed south and through the cemetery, which explains why the grave is on the right-of-way.”

The railroad placed the headstone at Mary’s grave. It said, “Mary E., daughter of NW and Mary A. Wright. Died August 19, 1854. Aged 6 years, 9 months and 18 days.

Nate Wright said he came as often as he could to tend to the grave, even though he was 70 in 1912. He died in 1930 at age 87.

In 1940, The Gazette published a photo of the grave taken by William F. Noe, treasurer of the Amana Society. The legend said that the railway “protected and preserved this memory of a pioneer family”.

One hundred years after Mary’s death, in the fall of 1954, a crew from Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railway Co. repaired and replaced the fence slats around Mary’s burial ground and painted the fence, keeping the promise of its predecessor, the Mississippi and Missouri River Railroad, to maintain the plot.

“I don’t know why we do it,” said station agent EG Etheridge of Homestead. “I don’t think we have to.”

As late as 1963 the grave was maintained by the Homestead Station Constable.

The McLaughlins

Jim McLaughlin of Cedar Rapids posed next to Mary Wright’s grave in November 1979. He and his wife, Gladys, took over maintenance of the grave in 1971 when he noticed how overgrown it was and not maintained. (Gazette Archive)

But in 1971, the old limestone marker sat on a weedy plot.

Jim McLaughlin of Cedar Rapids, a former line patrolman for Iowa Electric Light & Power Co., noticed the plot. He and his wife, Gladys, cut the weeds, mowed the grass and repaired the fence. A few years later, McLaughlin built a new fence around the grave.

Curious about the little girl who was buried there, the McLaughlins found records from Iowa County in Marengo on the Wright family.

“We come down about every two or three weeks in the summer and mow. Usually we go out for breakfast and then we go,” McLaughlin told a Gazette reporter in 1979. “People will see us working, stop and talk. It’s such a good project for us. You have to do things in your old age. “

Mary’s weather-beaten and nearly illegible headstone was replaced with a new one in 2016 when the Iowa County Pioneer Cemetery Commission renamed the cemetery from Granny Sprague Cemetery to the Niles-Sprague Pioneer Cemetery. The county maintains the plot.

A much taller white vinyl fence now surrounds the burial site and bears a sign with the name of the cemetery. Several PVC crosses commemorate other pioneers who may have been buried there but whose wooden markers have long since crumbled.

On a recent visit, flowers and an old doll decorated Mary’s grave as traffic picked up speed on the nearby freeway.

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This photo of Mary Wright’s grave was published in the Gazette on May 5, 1940. The photo, attributed to William F. Noe of Amana, has been made into a postcard. (Gazette Archive)

A white vinyl fence now surrounds the grave of 6-year-old Mary Wright on the railroad right-of-way along Highway 6/151 in Iowa County near Homestead. The Iowa County Pioneer Cemetery Commission replaced Mary’s weathered and nearly illegible headstone in 2016. (Merideth Langton)

A white vinyl fence now surrounds the grave of 6-year-old Mary Wright on the railroad right-of-way along Highway 6/151 in Iowa County near Homestead. The Iowa County Pioneer Cemetery Commission replaced Mary’s weathered and nearly illegible headstone in 2016. (Merideth Langton)

Six-year-old Mary Wright’s headstone is in the Niles-Sprague Pioneer Cemetery along Highway 6/151 in Iowa County near Homestead. Visitors left flowers, coins and a doll. (Merideth Langton)