Faces from the past

Monday, October 30, 2006
Steve Pledger portrayed Uriah Brock, a Revolutionary War soldier who moved to Cape Girardeau in 1842, at Brock's grave at Old Lorimier Cemetery on Sunday. (Fred Lynch)

By JENNIFER FREEZE

Southeast Missourian

A Revolutionary War soldier greeted visitors at his tombstone in Old Lorimier Cemetery on Sunday.

"Thanks for stopping by. It's been awhile since I've had visitors -- I don't get many these days," said Uriah Brock, who was portrayed by Steven Pledger.

Brock was born in 1759 in Brunswick County, Virginia. He joined the Army when he was 16.

"It was a long and tiresome war, and I saw things that nobody should ever see," Brock's impersonator said. "But the war was worth it. If it weren't for us brave men and women, who knows what this country would be like today?"

Brock moved to Cape Girardeau in the 1800s. He lived in a house in the 300 block of Themis Street until his death on Nov. 15, 1845 and is one of several Revolutionary War soldiers buried in Old Lorimier Cemetery.

Storytellers, such as Pledger, a local archivist at Cape Girardeau County's archive center, and historians led visitors on tours of Old Lorimier Cemetery as part of the Legends of Lorimier event. The Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau-sponsored event brought more than 150 people to the cemetery on a sunny, fall afternoon.

"Cemeteries provide a connection from the past to the present -- they tell a story," said Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the Center for Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University.

"This cemetery is full of history and is probably the most historic place in this area," he said. "The family names on the tombstones provide a direct connection to the very earliest years of Cape Girardeau."

Old Lorimier Cemetery has about 1,200 tombstones in it, but there are more than 8,000 burials at the site on Frederick Street. Outside the 352-foot fence surrounding the cemetery are unmarked burials.

Grave sites inside the fence of Old Lorimier Cemetery are divided -- Catholics are buried on the western side, and Protestants are buried on the east.

"They separated Catholics and Protestants at most all cemeteries years ago, and they did that to keep them separated from one another in the afterlife," Nickell said.

Several of Cape Girardeau's most historic figures are buried on the Catholic side of Old Lorimier Cemetery.

Anton Haas, who came to Cape Girardeau in the 1860s, was the first person to work with concrete in the city. In 1900, he poured the current concrete steps up the hill to the Common Pleas Courthouse. At the time, the steps were the first concrete construction south of St. Louis.

About 25 feet away from Haas's tombstone, the Hoche brothers -- Edmond, William and Phillip -- are buried. Edmond Hoche was in charge of exhibits at the St. Louis World's Fair in 1903 and 1904.

On the Protestant side, former city attorney and mayor Alexander Ross is buried. Ross, who died in 1915, was instrumental in bringing Southeast Missouri State University to the city.

Linda Nash, a retired Jackson High School history teacher, and George Dordoni, assistant director of international programs at the university, portrayed Lorimier Cemetery's most prominent tenants -- Charlotte and Louis Lorimier.

The Lorimiers are buried in the center of the cemetery. A large cement pavilion is built over the tomb of Cape Girardeau's founding father.

About 50 feet away from Lorimier's grave is another legendary resident, Louis Houck.

Dr. Joel Rhodes, assistant professor in the history department at Southeast, said Houck was "one of the most powerful and significant characters in Southeast Missouri."

In 1880, Houck came up with the idea to build a railroad system through Cape Girardeau. The railroads helped the region become one of the most productive areas in the state.

"Although he built bad railroads, he was the guy who had the vision," Rhodes said.

The history of Old Lorimier Cemetery also portrays a dismal image of two cholera epidemics that occurred in 1833 and 1853.

Seventeen victims who died of cholera are buried in an unmarked grave at the southeastern side of the cemetery. They are buried beneath a broken column tombstone.

"If you go to any cemetery and see a column that looks broken in half, it symbolizes a life cut short," said Jane Jackson, director of Cape Girardeau County's archive center.

Alexander Buckner and his family died from cholera, and are buried in the cemetery. Buckner came to Cape Girardeau in 1818, and he served as a Missouri senator in 1822 and a U.S. senator in 1831.

"During a visit home from Washington, D.C., he became infected and died. He and his whole family, his slaves, they all died," Jackson said.

Both Margie McMackins and her daughter Elly enjoyed the history lesson the Legends of Lorimier tour provided.

"This was a very wonderful thing to do," Margie McMackins said. "There's so much history here, and all the vandalism makes me want to cry."

Lorimier Cemetery has a history of vandals knocking over and destroying the tombstones. Last October, vandals toppled 69 headstones in Cape Girardeau's oldest cemetery.

Donations for repairs and maintenance of the cemetery were accepted at the event.

Sunday marked the second year of the Legends of Lorimier event, which organizers hope to continue annually.

"This gives us a great opportunity to open the cemetery up for residents so they can learn a little more history," said Marsha Toll, organizer of the event.

jfreeze@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 246

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