If you are looking for something spooky yet educational to do the weekend before Halloween, the Haunted History Tour will be back Saturday, Oct. 26 for the ninth year.
The tour at Oakland Cemetery features local residents portraying notable figures from Appanoose County’s past while standing at their graves.
“Basically we find eight different personalities, not necessarily famous, not rich necessarily,” says Lisa Eddy, curator of the Appanoose County Historical and Coal Mining Museum, who organizes the tour every year. “They are people that have an interesting story to tell.”
There are two times to catch the show, the first at 3 p.m. during daylight and the second at 6:30 p.m. at dusk. Eddy says the daytime performance is nice for those who do not feel comfortable walking around the cemetery at night, and it can also be a little warmer.
The evening performance has a spookier feel, but it is not completely dark because the path is lit by about 1,000 luminaries.
The cost is $7 for adults and $5 for students. This year the graves featured will be in a different part of the cemetery than usual, Eddy says. She says attendees should park in the east half of the cemetery and then enter the bridge. The tour will meet right past the bridge on the west side at the bottom of the hill.
The tour usually goes around the west side of the cemetery on top of the hill, Eddy says, but in the past this has left out some interesting personalities buried beyond that hill. This year the tour can include those personalities without trying to navigate down the hill in the dark.
One of the featured personalities will be Gus Milani, who had an ice cream factory. Eddy says she wanted to feature Milani because he has such a beautiful grave, and touring the east side of the cemetery will make that possible. Another featured personality this year will be Corse Payton, a New York theater owner who proclaimed himself to be “America’s best bad actor,” she says.
Eddy says that while she does not think of the tour as scary, having it at Halloween piques people’s interest. In fact, the first one was in the summertime and had a turnout of 12. When she scheduled the second one around Halloween, the numbers went up and now average about 130. For this reason, she says, there is no rain date this year; if the tour is rescheduled for after Halloween, hardly anyone shows up.
Even so, Eddy does have one ghost story to tell about the tour.
Right before the evening tour, Eddy was walking around and lighting the large lanterns that hang above each of the featured graves. She hadn’t had any problems with the lanterns until she reached the grave of Susannah McKee, who owned a hotel where the Continental Hotel is today. When the structure caught fire in 1893, McKee ran through the hotel warning occupants about the fire until it was too late, and she had to jump from a third-floor window to escape. She died from her injuries.
Eddy tried everything but couldn’t get the lantern at McKee’s grave to light.
“Then it dawned on me,” Eddy says. “She died because of that fire. I said, ‘Oh, Susannah, I remember,’ and then after I said that it lit.”
Each year much of the research about the lives of the deceased is done by Gary Craver, president of the Appanoose County Genealogical Society, and Tyler Morgan, the organization’s vice president.
Craver is particularly interested in Civil War veterans, and he has researched all of the more than 230 Civil War veterans in Oakland Cemetery. These include four African American veterans of that war, and one Confederate soldier.
In the course of his research, Craver found he had an unusual family connection to John Bashore, who is buried in the Oakland Cemetery. Bashore, a Civil War veteran, left the military to serve as a deputy provost marshal. In 1864 he was sent to Poweshiek County to deal with a group of men who were resisting the draft.
When Bashore and a deputy marshal from Knoxville, Josiah Woodruff, arrived in Poweshiek County, they met a man named Mike Gleason and asked him where they could find the draft dodgers.
Unfortunately for them, Gleason was connected to those men and tipped them off. A few hours later, Gleason, along with John and Joe Fleener, confronted the deputy marshals and started shooting. They shot Woodruff in the head and Bashore in the back. Gleason was shot in the confrontation, probably by Bashore, and spent the rest of his life in prison. The Fleeners escaped and were never found.
After Bashore was shot, several locals carried him to the nearby house of James Craver, Craver’s grandfather’s uncle. Bashore died of his injuries and was taken back to Centerville for burial. Craver’s grandfather, who moved down to the Centerville area in 1900, was not yet born. Craver says he didn’t hear the story from his family growing up; he discovered his family’s long-ago connection to Centerville through historical research.
Another of Craver’s favorite cemetery stories is that of Benjamin Earl “Red” Gaughenbaugh, who served as Appanoose County sheriff from 1923 to 1930. When Mike Halupnick portrayed Gaughenbaugh on the cemetery tour, he wore on his hip Gaughenbaugh’s actual pearl-handled gun, which is housed in the museum.
Halupnick portrayed Gaughenbaugh standing next to a still because Gaughenbaugh was sheriff during Prohibition and was known for aggressive enforcement of laws against bootlegging, according to Craver. Gaughenbaugh also was sheriff during the height of Ku Klux Klan activity in Appanoose County from 1923 to 1925.
Gaughenbaugh lost his bid for re-election in 1930 and moved on to work as a guard at the Iowa State Penitentiary in Fort Madison. He worked as a special agent of the Beardstown, Ill., division of the C.B.&Q. Railroad and later died on the Fourth of July in 1935.
On that day, which was oppressively hot, he arrested a 21-year-old man at the railroad depot for loitering and intoxication, and briefly scuffled with the man before subduing him. Later, at the police station, Gaughenbaugh collapsed and died of a heart attack at age 41.
One cemetery story the researchers found not to be true was that of Dr. Amos Patterson and olive oil. After Patterson and his wife traveled to the Holy Land. They ordered sepulchres that were modeled on the tombs they had seen in the Middle East.
When Lovina Patterson died, the rumor went around that olive oil was going to be used in the vault as a preservative. According to newspaper accounts, townspeople showed up and stood for hours in a storm of rain, ice and snow to see whether that was true, but it was reported that no olive oil was used.
Morgan says one of his favorite cemetery stories involves the mysterious Larimer stone. Very close to the gravestone of Gov. Francis Drake sits the stone of Sarah Luse Larimer, and no one is sure why.
“The interesting thing is she had no connections to the county; she had never lived here,” Morgan says.
Upon further research, Craver and Morgan learned that Larimer’s husband and son were also buried in the cemetery. The family lived in Pennsylvania then moved to Jackson County, Iowa. Her husband, William Larimer, served in the Civil War, and then suffered from health problems. The family joined a wagon train bound for Wyoming so he could benefit from the mountain air.
On the journey, the Larimers were attacked by Sioux Indians, wounding William Larimer, who was left for dead. They took Sarah Larimer and their son, Frank, captive. Later, the mother and son escaped and were reunited with William. In 1869, Larimer wrote a book about her experience being captured, which is why her gravestone calls her an author. She died in 1913 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Larimers purchased the plot in 1891. For some reason, the Larimers wanted that particular spot and were willing to pay a lot of money for it. They paid William Stier $160 for the plot, which he had purchased for only $10.
The only stone between Drake’s and Larimer’s is that of Capt. William Vermillion, who was a prominent community member.
“She is buried two stones away from Governor Drake,” Morgan says. “In the cemetery world, that is very prestigious real estate. People paid a lot of money to be buried there.”
Morgan says it is strange for the Larimer stone to be in such a prominent location when no one knows what the family’s connection to the county was.
“It’s a big mystery, and we don’t know if we will ever find an answer,” Morgan says.