Monday, August 29, 2005

A Riverside Visit With My Great-Great-Great Grandfather

On our way back from the wedding a little over a week ago, our route took us right by Charles City, Iowa where my great-great-great-grandfather John Kuck eventually immigrated to from Bremen, Prussia (now Germany), married and raised his family, all of whom died within two weeks of each other to some unknown disease except for himself and two sons. John went on to remarry and live until 1916, but until recently, I hadn't known where he was buried or even if he was buried in one of the cemeteries of Charles City. But with a little bit of luck, I ran across his name in a cemetery listing for Riverside Cemetery in Charles City and I thought it would be great to stop there, visit his grave and take a picture to give to my grandfather, John's great grandson.

I had done some research to try and locate the actual plot or block number of the grave over the internet but had been unsuccessful. All I had found were some stories about the cemetery being haunted. According to rumors, dark figures have been seen walking around and standing over graves and a few people have been attacked or approached by figures that refused to step into the light. Even an Indian has been seen out there and people claim that they always feel as if they were being watched at all times, especially near the mausoleum or along the riverbank. But driving on the freeway south of town, I couldn't resist the urge to check the cemetery out just in case it wasn't very big or I just got lucky and stumbled upon John's grave.

It was nearly seven in the evening when we pulled into the town of nearly 7500 residents and I pulled into a gas station to inquire about the location of the cemetery, which I imagined to be a neglected one somewhere along the Cedar River that runs through town. The young female clerk didn't know but the older lady working the pizza counter (Casey's is an Iowa gas station that always has a pizza counter in case you need a full tank and a slice or two for the road) knew of the cemetery and was able to give me rudimentary directions that included turning left at the bar named Sherm's. I was glad I had stopped right away and asked instead of just cruising the town in hopes of finding it like I had originally planned because it was a long ways off the beaten path and literally on the other side of the train tracks as the rest of town.

As we approached the cemetery main gate along the river, the cemetery appeared to be kept up in decent shape although by looking at the stones, it was plain to see that it was on old cemetery and probably no longer getting new residents if you know what I mean. We drove through the cemetery squinting at stones against the light of a setting sun shining low over the horizon, mainly looking for dates around the early 1900's when John died and the town was just turning fifty years old. Along the river, we came to a section of cemetery where there were lots of older stones, including some laying on the grass and others missing altogether. We parked the car along the road and each set off through the graves in opposite directions looking for my great-great-great-grandfather.

Although the shadows were getting long, I never did see any shadowy figures other than a family way off on another hill standing around a grave in a newer part of the cemetery. In fact, instead of feeling eerie, I felt very peaceful walking through the graves along the Cedar River nestled in a grove of ancient oak and other hardwood trees in the mild evening air. I walked in silence for about an hour among the graves looking for a stone that had Kuck written on it and wondering what I would do or say should I find it. How does one pay homage to an ancestor one has never met but has enormous respect for due to the fact that they left their home country to begin again in a new and foreign land, leaving all their relatives behind? I never got to answer that question because the sun had gone down and darkness was rapidly approaching when we gave up and walked back through the cemetery to our car. As we made one last pass with the car hoping for some luck that never came, I told my great-great-great grandfather John that I would come back again someday and spend a little bit more time telling him about my life and introduce him to my wife. As we exited the cemetery gates and started towards home still four hours of driving to the south, I told him simply, "Thanks."

Story postscript:
Upon leaving, we saw a building across the road from the cemetery with the words Riverside Cemetery Association written on it along with office hours and a phone number. I called the number up and inquired if they could help me out. The lady looked up my great-great-great grandfather's record there and told me he was indeed buried there. Not only is the lady send me a map showing the exact location of the grave but she is checked it out personally to see if there is a headstone and if so, what kind of condition it is in. (Large gravestone with some lettering hard to read.) As a bonus, she also sent me the internment records of all the Kucks buried there, including four whom I never new existed. Someday soon, I will make another trip up there and spend some time with my great-great-great grandfather John Kuck. I can't wait

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