This is the fifth post in a series titled “Adopting Graves”, where I’ve enjoyed sharing my journey of adopting and researching two graves during the autumn season. For previous posts, visit:
Adopting Graves: Second Visit with Clara and Johnnie
Adopting Graves: A New Autumn Tradition (2013)
Adopting Graves: Some genealogy on our little Johnnie and his family
Adopting Graves: More on little Clara and her family
On a Saturday in the middle of August, I decided to begin a new autumn tradition of adopting graves. I chose the graves of two souls, each in a different cemetery. At this point I feel strangely close to Johnnie Michel and Clara I. Gegenbauer. From that day on, I visited these graves every two weeks up to October 30th. I need to go back at least one more time to pick up the pumpkins and things, that way if I decide to visit in the distant future, there won't be a pumpkin patch to walk through. For more on the inspiration and how I chose these two graves, visit my very first post in this series.
Johnnie Michel, son of Henry and Matilda Michel, July 5, 1879 – January 21, 1884
Johnnie, who died at four and half years old (reason unknown), lived with his family on the upper floor of a general store on Main Street in Wentzville, Missouri. His father was a prominent Wentzville citizen and built and owned the general store. His mother raised the family (Johnnie had an older and a younger sister), and presumably helped tend to several of the clerks and extended family members that lived with them above the store.
Below are some of the shots from different visits to Johnnie's grave (I tried to bring different flowers/gifts each time.)
Since posting my genealogy for Johnnie's family, I discovered that the family's general store was located where the “Wentzville Millwork” building is in the picture below. I'm not sure how old the remaining buildings to the left are, but I wanted to make sure and include them in the picture to help your imagination. The structure that housed the general store was demolished in the 1970s. To my knowledge there are no existing photos of the general store, which was operated by the family until at least 1910. The second picture below is a view of the surrounding downtown area across the street from that lot.
Clara I. Gegenbauer, March 29, 1884 – March 17, 1889
As you may have noticed, Clara died just short of her fifth birthday as well. She was the fourth out of eight children by parents Eugene Gegenbauer (1847 – 1916) and Isabelle Coulter Gegenbauer (1853 – 1930). Like Johnnie, there is no record of how or why Clara died at such a young age. Her father Eugene (whose parents immigrated from Germany) and mother Isabelle (whose parents immigrated from Ireland) were married in 1876. After immigrating, Clara’s paternal grandfather was a physician and teacher in the Ballwin, Missouri area. He died in 1880.
Out of the family’s eight children, Eugene and Isabelle had 7 grandchildren, including my new friend Gayla’s father. Clara’s last remaining sibling, Jane Sophia “Jennie” Gegenbauer, was Gayla’s grandmother. She died in 1976.
For more on Clara, or for photos of her parents and the family's farmhouse, click HERE.
On my second visit with Johnny and Clara, I was not prepared for the feelings I would have when seeing the blunt symbolism of the dead flowers in the exact same arrangement that I had placed them in only two weeks earlier. Though this is a completely normal thing to see in a cemetery, it was a beautiful and sad at the same time.
Other favorite photos from my visits to see Johnny and Clara
Clara's grave can be seen on the left (with the bright flowers) near the top of the hill. The graves surrounding her are her parents and siblings.
Once again, Clara's grave can be seen off in the distance at the top of the hill.
As I mentioned before, I have to make at least one more visit to pick up pumpkins, but I highly doubt that it will be my last. I've become so familiar with the path to find them, and I'm sure I'll never forget. I'm already excited to start the journey over next year with two “new” graves.