A walk through Oak Ridge Cemetery

Actors bring Springfield notables to life

click to enlarge Patricia Davis of Springfield will be portraying Gertrude Wright Morgan.
Patricia Davis of Springfield will be portraying Gertrude Wright Morgan.

After a year hiatus due to the pandemic, the Sangamon County Historical Society will once again host the Oak Ridge Cemetery Walk on Sunday, Oct. 3. Eight Springfield notables will be portrayed. Each of the actors will make a 5-7-minute presentation telling the story of one buried nearby. Here are a few highlights of each:

Margaret Carpenter, portrayed by Mary Disseler, was one of the first settlers of Sangamon County. She and her husband, William, came to the area around 1819, built a cabin and established a small farm north of the Sangamon River, where Riverside Park is today. The home became a stop on the stagecoach line. In 1828, the couple moved into Springfield and rented their cabin to Stephen Logan, Lincoln's law partner. William opened a mercantile business, served as justice of the peace, and as a state representative until he was forced off the ticket for supporting voting rights for free African Americans. Carpenter Park and Carpenter Street are named after the couple.

William Northcott was a lawyer, established an insurance company, and served as lieutenant governor from 1897 to 1905. Active in many Springfield groups, he served 13 years as chapter president of the Modern Woodmen of America, a fraternal benefits society which still provides insurance and other financial products today. The gravestone is a bench and a well, erected by his friends in the chapter. With Northcott portrayed by Dennis Darling, the presentation will focus on some of the 90 fraternal organizations that existed in Springfield, such as the Masons, the Elks, the Odd Fellows, and others. The Odd Fellows held a week-long convention in 1897. Decorations hung on the Statehouse, 3,000 people marched in a parade, and wooden arches were erected on the square.

Salome Paddock Enos and her husband, Pascal, left Vermont in 1815 and endured a long, arduous journey. Linda Schneider will portray Salome and read entries from a diary, relating the difficulties they encountered: a broken wagon, poor weather, muddy roads, and overnight accommodations she often called "bad." After living near St. Louis, they came to Springfield in 1823 when Pascal was appointed the federal land receiver for the county. They lived at what is now Second and Jefferson, and later owned land that was donated for the town square – now the site of the Old State Capitol. Pascal died in 1832; Salome handled the final transactions. She was 41 and lived another 45 years.

Bells ring daily for Thomas Rees. He conceived the idea and paid for the Washington Park Carillon, which bears his name. Rees was from Iowa; his father, a newspaper publisher, had hired young Mark Twain. Rees went into the business; he and two others bought the failing Keokuk Constitution paper and successfully reformed it. They came to Springfield in 1881 to help another failing paper, the Illinois State Register. Again, they were successful, and through the efforts of business partner Henry Clendenin, the paper was known as the most powerful Democratic paper in downstate Illinois. Their partnership lasted 40 years. Portrayer Dave Vandevoort will share the regrets Rees had in some of the paper's opinions. The Clendenin and Rees families share a large Greek-columned memorial at Oak Ridge.

click to enlarge The grave of Thomas Rees, publisher of Springfield's Illinois State Register newspaper for more than 50 years, is among those buried near this Greek-columned memorial.
The grave of Thomas Rees, publisher of Springfield's Illinois State Register newspaper for more than 50 years, is among those buried near this Greek-columned memorial.

Harriet Knudson is remembered by flowers. She was instrumental in founding Lincoln Memorial Garden as a living memorial to Abraham Lincoln. Harriet and her husband, a well-known doctor, lived in Springfield and built a summer home near Pleasant Plains, where they devoted time to propagating and growing flowers. They had so many varieties of gladiolas that the farm was called Gladacres. Harriet founded the Springfield Civic Garden Club in 1929, served on the state board, and started Junior Garden Clubs. Portrayer Tracy Petro will share Harriet's vision for the Lincoln Memorial Garden, the rules Springfield imposed and the story of getting world-renowned landscape architect Jens Jensen to design the garden.

Only Harriet Palmer is buried at Oak Ridge, but Gertrude Wright Morgan will be included in the story of the two women, portrayed by Deb Vandevoort and Patricia Davis, respectively. Harriet, white, the daughter of Governor John Palmer, and Gertrude, the daughter of a man born into slavery, met in 1874. The story of how they met and became friends is a lesson in acceptance. Springfield schools were integrated in 1874; Gertrude was one of the first African Americans to attend the high school and the first African American to graduate from high school in Springfield, ranked number 3 in a class of 28. She went on to become a teacher in St. Louis, as Springfield would not hire a black teacher. She married a prominent lawyer, and settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The couple helped establish the NAACP. Gertrude was appointed by the Massachusetts governor to serve on the board of the Frederick Douglass home in Washington, D.C.

Harriet married Edwin Crabbe; his job as a pension examiner took them to Washington state and Texas. Eventually they returned to Springfield. No matter where the couple lived, Harriet was active in the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Henry Dodds owned a pharmacy from 1875-1921 at the corner of Fifth and Monroe. The corner was where streetcars converged and was called the busiest corner in Springfield. It became known as Dodds Corner. Andy Vandevoort will portray the pharmacist and tell the story of the bustling Dodds Corner and about the pharmacy that was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all year. Dodds helped create the Pharmacy Act of 1881 and to establish laws regulating narcotics.

“Echoes of Yesteryear: A Walk Through Oak Ridge Cemetery”: noon to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 3 at Oak Ridge Cemetery, 1441 Monument Avenue in Springfield. Free. Donations suggested. The last tour begins at 3:15 p.m. Park in designated areas; board the bus to the first gravesite, walk to the other gravesites (about ½ mile) and return by bus to the parking area. Refreshments available for purchase by the Springfield and Central Illinois African American History Museum.

Cinda Ackerman Klickna serves on the board of the Sangamon County Historical Society.

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