Actors portray settlers for cemetery tour


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Originally Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2012, 9:34 pm
Last Updated: Sept. 30, 2012, 10:14 am
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By Laura Anderson Shaw, landerson@qconline.com

Riverside Cemetery in Moline is haunted with history. Saturday, eight former area settlers returned to the grounds where they were buried to tell their stories.

Well, sort of.

Dressed from head to toe in costume, eight actors portrayed these former settlers, articulately delivering quick tales of their life stories at the 16th annual Echoes from Riverside: "Gone, but Not Forgotten" tour.

More than 300 people came out for the nearly 2-hour long tour, which began at the entombment site of John Deere's granddaughter, Emma Chapman Woodcock, in the Chapel Mausoleum at Riverside Cemetery.

Visiting the site was in recognition of Deere & Co.'s 175th anniversary.

Ms. Chapman Woodcock was involved heavily in community organizations that benefited young people until she passed away in 1928. On Saturday, Ms. Chapman Woodcock appeared as Brigitte McCray, of Rock Island.

As Ms. Chapman Woodcock, Ms. McCray said she was born in 1859, and the terms "departure" and "return" defined her life. She left Moline in 1887 to travel the world. She met her husband, Edwin Woodcock, while in New York and later moved with him to Chicago where they were married in 1896.

"But I never forgot the city where I called home," she said. "Moline."

From inside the tiny room in the Mausoleum, as Ms. Chapman Woodcock, Ms. McCray said she and her husband had many civil interests, such as her husband "spearheading" Boy Scouts in the area and she starting Bethany Home.

In 1928, an influenza epidemic broke out, killing Mr. Woodcock first and Ms. Chapman Woodcock three days later.

Another stop on the tour included the grave site of John Gamble, which served to recognize the Rock Island Arsenal's 150th anniversary.

Mr. Gamble had worked on the Island for 40 years and kept a daily journal of events at the Arsenal, in the community and in the nation.

Clad in a black bowling hat and an old-fashioned suit, Bob Bohannon, of Rock Island, as Mr. Gamble, told the group that he was born in 1841, enjoyed fishing, and worked with his siblings at his father's lumber mill until the "States' War" when he joined the service in Iowa.

While at war, he was shot in the back. "Those cowards," he said.

Soon after, he was taken as a Prisoner of War to the Andersonville camp. He later was traded to the North for Southern prisoners, he said, and was sent to Maryland to recuperate. But because he never returned to his pre-injury state, he was allowed to return to Iowa where he was married to a woman named Roxanna in 1865, and later moved to Moline.

As Mr. Gamble, Mr. Bohannon said he manned the gate on the Arsenal. Among his duties, he said he "checked wagons as he came across," and gave visitors directions.

He retired in the early 1920s, and passed away in 1929.

The next stop on the tour was Eric Okerberg's grave site. Mr. Okerberg, who was born in 1821, opened the first jewelry and watchmaker store in Moline.

Played by Greg Bouljon, of Moline, Mr. Okerberg began his tale by trying to get the small group of touring folks to buy a watch or piece of jewelry.

As Mr. Okerberg, Ms. Bouljon said he was born in 1821 in Sweden. He worked as an apprentice with a jeweler there, and was later hired to make watches. Eight years later, he had crafted 92 watches -- by hand.

He sailed to America in 1850, crammed in the bottom of the boat for six weeks with other immigrants. "You were in the part of the ship that was below water," he said.

Finally, he arrived to the states, made his way to the Midwest and eventually settled in Rock Island. He married in 1853, had seven children and moved his family and his business to Moline.

In 1903, he was traveling to Credit Island to return a clock he had repaired for his nephew.

"I was found face-down on the (river) bank," he said, with the clock.

"My heart had finally given out," he said, "but the clock still worked!"

One of his four-sided clocks can be seen at the First Lutheran Church, 1230 5th Ave., Moline.

Other grave site stops along the way included those of:

-- Grace Putnam, 1872-1932, a 29-year Moline teacher and principal, who was played by Dorothy White, of Moline.

-- Silas D. Harker, 1834-1923, a Civil War veteran who had 10 children and suffered a violent death, played by Bill Hannan, of Moline.

-- George Oldefest, 1849-1908, a German immigrant who served as Riverside Cemetery sexton for 10 years, played by Bob White, of Moline.

-- Isabel Gertrude Christison Eichman, 1878-1924, a San Francisco earthquake survivor and the first woman to run a postal substation in her family's Moline grocery store, played by Yvonne Brolander, of East Moline.

-- Mathilda Ed Olson, 1871-1957, a Swedish immigrant who came to Moline alone at age 19 and did not speak English, played by Kathleen Seusy, of Moline.

Among the attendees Saturday were Chad Coene, of Moline, his 12-year-old daughter, Mya, and her friend, Maddie Garcia, 12, Moline.

The girls, who attend Seton Catholic School in Moline, took the tour as part of an extra credit assignment, and had a great time.

"It's a fun way to learn," Mya said.

"It's almost like a play," Maddie added.

With bright eyes, the girls talked about what they learned and what they liked and already had decided that they would return for next year's tour.

Mr. Coene said he has lived in Moline all of his life and had never visited Riverside Cemetery.

"I thought it was very impressive," he said of the tour, adding that listening to the history was amazing.

"Those people...went through things we can't even imagine," he said. "They deserve our respect."



















 



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