Tag Archives: adopting gravesites

Cemeteries at Night and My Pumpkin Mission

A photo of Johnnie’s grave during one of my recent visits.

 

Tonight I simply wanted to log on and tell you about my return trip to Johnnie’s grave to retrieve the pumpkin I left for him. 

I left a pumpkin at Clara’s grave, too. I knew they would be fine for a month or so, but also knew I had the responsibility of going back to pick them up before they rotted. I mean, I didn’t want to see Linus and Lucy waiting for the Great Pumpkin next fall if I return for a visit. That would be embarrassing, and I’d feel really bad. So yes, I was stressing out just a bit about getting back to dispose of the pumpkins. The only problem? After Halloween, when we get busy with our lives again and “fall back”, I’ve discovered it is nearly impossible to get to a cemetery (unless you live right next to it) before dark! Even on days where I get to leave work at a decent time after school, it’s getting dark on the way there! I had every intention for over a week to get back to both of these cemeteries, but lack of sunlight was really making it difficult. 

When it comes to cemeteries (and most situations in life, actually), I’ve always followed the accepted rules. For most cemeteries, unless otherwise posted, you are prohibited from entering between dusk and dawn. Well a few nights ago, I rushed out of school as early as I could, but darkness beat me once again. I was already en route to Johnny’s cemetery when I decided that this mission to dispose of a pumpkin was important enough of a reason to go to that cemetery in the dark. I was frustrated and tired of the daily race and wanted to check this off my to do list.

I’ve spent hours and hours in cemeteries, both as a child and as an adult. They’re like peaceful parks to me. Though I don’t recall a cemetery visit after sundown, I was pretty confident that I wouldn’t have any fear issues. I thought back to the day I returned to do some follow-up investigation at an abandoned farmhouse… in the dark… without my team… and how good it felt to prove to myself that I could do it. I had no worries. My confidence wavered a bit, however, as I tried to locate Johnny’s grave. In the daylight, I knew that path like the back of my hand. At this point I’d been there probably ten times. But I assure you, it’s a whole different story in the dark.

By the time I made it to Johnnie’s grave, I was more worried about cops or someone in one of the few houses nearby thinking I was a trouble maker. This is also why I didn’t use a flashlight. I didn’t want to draw attention to myself. But surely anyone would be understanding of my pumpkin mission, right? I felt a bit rude dropping by for such a brief visit, but I quickly greeted Johnnie and explained that I was taking his pumpkin back. I hoped he understood. I sent a quick prayer for him to be at peace and then crouched down to search for the pumpkin. In the shadows, my eyes finally settled on it. It was still there. It was either upside down or no longer had its stem, but it was hard to tell. I grabbed with both hands, but my fingers went right through the pumpkin. I had to hold back from blowing chunks right there. I waited too long. Fortunately, I was prepared with a trash bag and managed to scoop it all (or what I hoped was all) in the bag. I think I said something goofy to Johnnie about this awkward moment before heading back to the car that was parked nearby on one of the paths in the middle of the cemetery.

In the car, the next priority was finding my hand sanitizer. Once my hands were taken care of, I had a fascinating moment just sitting there in a silent car. I was enjoying the surroundings and realizing this wasn’t something you see every day. I wasn’t too frightened. In fact, I could have stayed there a while longer, admiring all of the silhouettes off in the distance. Once again, the fear of police lights driving up the hill to the cemetery got me moving quickly. I made my way to the main road and headed for home, while planning the next day’s rushed visit to retrieve Clara’s pumpkin. Would it be in the same condition? In my head, I made a few quick notes on the lessons learned during this trip to grab a squishy pumpkin in the shadows. 

 

You may be interested in my other posts 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 2013: My Thoughts and a Look Back on a New Tradition
Adopting Graves: Second Visit with Clara and Johnnie

Adopting Graves: Some genealogy on our little Johnnie and his family
Adopting Graves: More on little Clara and her family
Adopting Graves: A New Autumn Tradition (2013)

 

 


Adopting Graves 2013: My Thoughts and a Look Back on a New Tradition

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.

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Once again, Clara’s grave can be seen off in the distance at the top of the hill. 

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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.

 

 


Defining “The Big Séance”

Since The Big Séance has gained quite a few readers in the last few months, I’ve gotten a few questions regarding the title of this blog and what weirdness we’re all about here. Is this really a séance? And if so, why the pictures of historic buildings? Why the cemeteries? Well I’ve wanted to compose some thoughts on this for quite a while, but the time was just never right, and I guess the inspiration just never came. It is true, the blog has changed and grown (as most of them do) over the last year and a half, so I suppose it’s time to update the old “About” page.

The online Merriam Webster dictionary defines séance as “a spiritualist meeting to receive spirit communications.” The word itself comes from an old French word that means “sitting” or “to sit”. Well the way I look at it, I’m sitting as I write this post, and I’m seated every other time as well. That’s how I came up with the name.

…I’m kidding. Oh come on. Laugh already.

In all seriousness, from day one my plan was to create a blog that covered paranormal and spiritual topics, with an emphasis on spirit communication. I’d highlight some of my team’s paranormal investigations, share some evidence, etc. A lot has changed since then.

I don’t think there is a more dramatic or fun form of spirit communication than a séance. Am I right? Picture any séance you’ve seen from an old movie or TV show. An old Victorian house, dark and ornate décor, candles all over, perhaps a Ouija board, a fabulously costumed medium, and of course no séance is complete without theremin music for an extra spooky effect.  

In an early blog post on the topic of the séance, I thought back to my earliest introduction to the concept. Allow me to plagiarize myself.

I must confess, I think I was introduced to the concept of a séance in a segment of The Bloodhound Gang, which was like a miniature mystery series that was a part of the 1980s PBS children’s series, 3-2-1 Contact. Anybody remember? I even had a subscription to the 3-2-1 Contact magazines for a while and have probably seen every episode from all eight seasons. Don’t tempt me to sing the theme song (or even The Bloodhound Gang theme for that matter)… because I will. I can’t be exactly sure that’s where I saw my first séance, but that’s where my childhood memory is taking me back to.

I’ve never been able to prove that 3-2-1 Contact was responsible for sparking this fascination, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. If anyone knows what I might be thinking of, please let me know. It would be truly awesome to see it again, whatever it was.

After more than a year and a half and over 250 published blog posts later, I’ve learned a lot about blogging. I’ve learned a lot about “paranormal folk”. I’ve learned a great deal about myself, what I know, and what I don’t know for sure yet. But as of right now I’d like to think of “The Big Séance” as not just a broad form of spirit communication, but a way to honor or learn about anyone’s life or past… a kind of remembrance. In an EVP session, I don’t just want to capture a voice, but I think of it as a chance for a spirit to communicate. When I highlight a beautifully historic or abandoned location, I’m imagining the lives of the people who made memories in the space previously. By photographing the beauty of an old cemetery or the resting place of a soul’s body, we show that we’re not afraid or embarrassed of what we erroneously refer to as “death”. I like to think that by thinking of these souls and wondering about their lives, we’re honoring them. And I’ll almost always have a recorder with me, whether it’s a trip to the cemetery or an actual paranormal investigation. All souls are invited to communicate or pass on messages to the living. You’ve joined me in several experiments. You’ve even shared your own experiences. Therefore, you’re not only an audience member for MY séance, you’re all participating in it! It’s a BIG séance… and it’s getting bigger.

  

P.S. 

It’s now the eve of October 1st, a month-long (maybe even longer) holiday for many of us. So whether you just like to be goofy and dress up for trick-or-treaters, celebrate to honor your ancestors or the lives of the dead, or hope to take advantage of a thinning veil that separates us from “the other side”, stay tuned throughout the rest of the autumn season!

 

Today I made another visit to the resting places of both  Johnnie and Clara, as part of my new tradition of adopting and researching older graves during the fall season. I decided to give Johnnie the opportunity to jump in the photo with me... assuming he was there visiting as well.

Today I made another visit to the resting places of both Johnnie and Clara, as part of my new tradition of adopting and researching older graves during the fall season. I decided to give Johnnie the opportunity to jump in the photo with me… assuming he was there visiting as well.

 

 


Adopting Graves: Second visit with Clara and Johnnie…

This is the fourth 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: 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

Clara's grave from today's visit.

Clara’s grave from today’s visit.

 

Johnny's grave from today's visit. (The grave of his grandparents in the background.)

Johnny’s grave from today’s visit. (The grave of his grandparents in the background.)

 

Today was my second visit to the gravesites of Clara and Johnnie. Except for the fact that it was like eleventy-hundred degrees today, I was very excited about each of these visits. I know so much more about these souls and their families now, and that made this trip a little more meaningful. After another stop for flowers (different colors this time), I made my way toward Gumbo Cemetery for Clara. In both cemeteries, the remains of my flowers from the last visit were present… aged and frozen in time. I secretly hoped they’d still be there, mainly for the selfish opportunity to snap photos of them. For both Johnnie and Clara, I talked aloud of how I knew they probably weren’t present with me, eternally hanging out next to their head stone, but I wanted to make sure they knew I had been thinking of them and learning about their families over the last few weeks. I even read my previous blog posts and mentioned the fact that many others were learning about their families as well. I sat in silence for a while (a little longer for Clara since I was winded from climbing the hill) and forced myself to be okay with my legs being itchy from the grass.

 

The resting place of Eugene, Clara's father.

The resting place of Eugene, Clara’s father.

 

A young and handsome Eugene Gegenbauer, Clara's father.

A young and handsome Eugene Gegenbauer, Clara’s father.

 

The resting place of Isabelle, Clara's mother.

The resting place of Isabelle, Clara’s mother.

 

A young Isabelle Coulter Gegenbauer, Clara's mother.

A young Isabelle Coulter Gegenbauer, Clara’s mother.

 

On my way out of Linn Cemetery after visiting Johnnie, I took a few photos of the entrance to the older section. I found an older marker for this section with the date of 1867, although I’ve seen some head stones there with a burial date of 1865.

 

Near the entrance to the older section of Linn Cemetery, Wentzville, Missouri.

Near the entrance to the older section of Linn Cemetery, Wentzville, Missouri.

 

Near the entrance of the older section of Linn Cemetery, Wentzville, Missouri.

Near the entrance of the older section of Linn Cemetery, Wentzville, Missouri.

 

I suppose I’ll plan the next visit for two weekends from now. Hopefully by then I’ll be able to wear a hoodie. That might be a stretch.

Till next time… 

 


Adopting Graves: More on little Clara and her family…

This is the third 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: A New Autumn Tradition (2013) and Adopting Graves: Some genealogy on our little Johnnie and his family

Clara's headstone from my first visit.

Clara’s headstone from my first visit.

Beginning genealogy research through Ancestry.com can be incredibly addictive and time consuming. This new hobby has given me my first opportunity to try it. I’ve filled up nearly ten pages on a legal pad with notes on both Johnnie and Clara, the two souls and graves that I’ve adopted this season. Of course, this is more info than anyone would ever need to know. But even though these families were strangers to me before now, it has been great fun… fun of the nerdly variety. In researching information on Clara, I have had the good fortune of getting in contact with a nice woman named Gayla Liles. Gayla is a great niece of Clara and has supplied me with the information and photos shared in this post. Since Gayla lives in New Mexico and no other family members live near, I have been able to share photos of the unseen Gegenbauer family plot and headstones with her. It feels good… and it makes it seem like there’s a real purpose to this new tradition, rather than just being a strange nerd who blogs about these things. It has been an honor to talk to Gayla and I thank her very much for the hard work and information researched and gathered.

 

Clara I. Gegenbauer, March 29, 1884 – March 17, 1889

Clara was the fourth out of eight children by parents Eugene Gegenbauer (1847 – 1916) and Isabelle Coulter Gegenbauer (1853 – 1930). Like Johnnie (see last post), 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.

 

A young and handsome Eugene Gegenbauer, Clara's father.

A young and handsome Eugene Gegenbauer, Clara’s father.

 

A young Isabelle Coulter Gegenbauer, Clara's mother.

A young Isabelle Coulter Gegenbauer, Clara’s mother.

 

An older Isabelle Coulter Gegenbauer. I love this photo. You can just see wisdom in her eyes.

An older Isabelle Coulter Gegenbauer. I love this photo. You can just see wisdom in her eyes.

 

Isabelle and children. I'm not sure if Clara is a part of this photo or what year it is. According to my research and this photo, they lived on a farm.

Isabelle and children. I’m not sure if Clara is a part of this photo or what year it was taken. According to my research and this photo, they lived on a farm in the Meramec/St. Louis area. I just love the house!

 

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.

 

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This Labor Day weekend marks two weeks since I adopted Johnnie and Clara’s graves. I hope to make a return visit to both. It will certainly be more meaningful now that I know more about these two families.

 

 

 


Adopting Graves: Some genealogy on our little Johnnie and his family…

In my last post I shared with you my new autumn tradition of adopting older graves. I was so very excited to share the two that I chose… the resting places of Johnnie and Clara. The two graves are in different cemeteries, and even though I did my best to be drawn to the graves naturally, both happen to be the resting places of children who died at around the same age of five.

 

Johnnie Michel (1879 – 1884)

Though I was not able to find family photos in my research on our little  Johnnie and his family, I was able to find a significant amount of information and documents.

Johnnie’s father, Franz Heinrich (Henry) Michel (1842 – 1920), was a prominent member of the Wentzville, Missouri community by 1876. He married Johnnie’s mother, Mathilda Michel (Brockman) (1844 – 1928), daughter of “well-to-do farmers” in the county, in 1873 in St. Louis. They were members of the Lutheran Church. It is said that they had “many sincere and true friends.”

Henry Michel grew up poor, but eventually found success in Wentzville. In 1876 he built and opened a general store on Main Street in Wentzville, where Mathilda “kept house” and the family on the 2nd floor. To my knowledge, it appears the general store stayed in business until at least 1910. Johnnie had an older sister who died in 1953 and a younger sister who lived to be 92 years old. Depending on the census, apparently several clerks and salesmen for the store shared the upstairs living quarters with the family throughout the years, as well as a few cousins, Johnnie’s grandfather, and the husband of one of Johnnie’s sisters. It must have been an exciting household! By 1920, according to the census from that year, Johnnie’s older sister was the only other person sharing the house with her parents. By that time she was 33, while her parents were 75 and 77. (I’ve contacted the Wentzville Historical Society and hope to hear back from them with information regarding the general store, the location, if the building still exists, or if anyone has photos.)

A tobacco pouch from Johnnie's father's general store in Wentzville, Missouri.

A tobacco pouch from Johnnie’s father’s general store in Wentzville, Missouri.

According to an 1895 book with biographies of prominent and representative citizens from the surrounding counties, “In the business circles of the place Mr. Michel is highly and justly esteemed as an honorable and upright man, whose word is as good as his note, and who endeavors to fill to the letter every contract and obligation. Politically he is, like his father, an enthusiastic Republican.”

Unfortunately, other than one mention of a 6 month old Johnnie on a census form and the date of death from the head stone I found, no other information is known.

 

Johnnie's grandparents rest only a few feet away.

Johnnie’s grandparents rest only a few feet away.

A touching side note: The large head stone behind Johnnie’s in the photo on the right is the grave of his grandparents, Johann and Maria Michel, immigrants from Hannover in Germany. It warms my heart to know that they are buried close. I’ll have to check when I return, but I don’t believe there were any other Michels buried nearby. Johnnie’s father Henry is buried in the St. Peters Cemetery in nearby Washington, Missouri. Mother Mathilda and older sister Ella (most likely younger sister Katherine as well) are buried in St. John’s Lutheran Cemetery in Santa Ana, California. 

 

 

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Adopting Graves: A New Autumn Tradition (2013)...

Adopting Graves: A New Autumn Tradition (2013)…


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