As one who lives with one foot firmly in the past, Memorial Day holds special meaning to me. This year, I decided to finally check one off the old bucket list and visit Prospect Hill Cemetery in Omaha. It’s one of the oldest pioneer cemeteries in the city and is the final resting place of many Omaha founders.
I stumbled upon the website late last night where I found out the time for the ceremony. Growing up, I remember going to the local cemetery with my family, listening to the anthem and to Taps, and running around gleefully pickup up spent casings after the 21-gun salute. So when I read that Prospect Hill did an old-fashioned Memorial Day program I knew where I was going.
The official program began at 10:45am but I arrived around 10:30 to wander the graves. A brass band was playing and they had Civil War reenactment soldiers at arms. There was a speech of the history of the G.A.R. or Grand Army Republic, as well as mention of several Union Soldiers who were buried there.
Following the 21-gun salute and Taps, a eulogy was given over the grave of Anna Wilson, notorious madam and charitable giver. After the service, I took a few moments to wander.
During the service, I was standing beside the grave of Dr. Elizabeth Reeves. She was the first woman physician in Nebraska and she was known for assisting the poor who could not afford a doctor. The bottom portion of her tombstone contains a poem:
Will You Come To My Grave
When My Spirit Has Fled,
And Beneath the Green Sod I Am Laid With the Dead,
When the Heart That Loved You Is Turning To Clay,
And In Calvary’s Cold Dews I Am Passing Away!
I spotted this tombstone with the Tuttle name and snapped a quick pic to check if they are family relation.
Woodmen of the World tombstones leave me speechless.
I wondered if Catherine was a relation to Laura Ingalls Wilder?
Many of the graves at Prospect Hill are crumbling and breaking apart. I felt extremely emotional at seeing the dilapidated state of the graves of Omaha’s ancestors. And that really drove home the meaning of Memorial Day to me. What’s to say that this won’t happen to my or your graves in one to two hundred years time? There are hundreds of thousands of graves just like these in cemeteries all across our nation. Or graves with no stone of any kind to show that they too lived. No one should be forgotten.
Which is why I’ve made a Memorial Day tradition to decorate the graves of those who came before me. My maternal grandparents: George and Virginia Wildrick; my maternal great-grandmother, Irene Sutliff Wildrick Craven and her 2nd husband, Fred Craven; my maternal great-grandfather Freeman Wildrick and his 2nd wife Verna Bydalek Wildrick. Located just down the road from where Freeman and Verna are buried are Milburn and Mary Bily Sutliff. Milburn was Irene’s older brother making him Freeman’s brother-in-law. Milburn and Mary had no children of their own, and for years I’ve been trying to figure out who decorates their grave. That is, until last year, when my mom came with me, and she noticed that all the similar stones had bouquets of flowers filling the vases. She thinks that the cemetery is responsible for decorating. To whoever you are, my family thanks you.
As you enjoy the remaining hours of your three-day weekend, the official start to summer, I ask you to take a moment to think of those who came before. Those who created the path to create you. Because while their spirits have fled and their bodies have turned to clay, there is still a part of them that lives on through you. Cherish those parts, and teach those who follow you to do the same.