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Chippiannock cemetery full of meaning

ROCK ISLAND -- Greg Vogele and his family live on the west side of Rock Island with about 23,000 dead people in their backyard.

As superintendent of Chippiannock Cemetery -- the Quad-Cities' oldest -- Mr. Vogele is responsible for 95 acres of trees, granite, hills and prominent local legends.


Dispatch/Argus Photo By John J. Kim

A statue of D.J. Dimick's dog rests in front of the family headstone in Chippiannock Cemetary, Rock Island. The dog was a faithful visitor to the graves of Eddie and Josie Dimick, who died of diptheria when they were young. When the dog died, the family built the statue in honor of his loyalty.

Mr. Vogele grew up in the superintendent's house at the corner of 12th Street and 29th Avenue because his father managed the grounds until he took over in 1977. However, he said his life is nothing like `Halloween,' `Pet Sematary' or any other horror movie that gives burial grounds their bad reputation.

``All the years I've lived here, I've never seen anything supernatural,'' Mr. Vogele said. ``My wife and I have watched every scary movie ever made, and real life isn't like that.''

Nearly 150 years of real life are buried at Chippiannock, founded in 1855 by prominent citizens who thought the growing town needed an official cemetery.

Chippiannock's winding, paved roads lead past the gravesites of historic Quad-Citians, from longtime Rock Island Mayor Bailey Davenport and the inventor of America's first easy chair, to Rock Island's first African-American landowner.

One of the cemetery's best known gravesites belongs to two children who didn't live long enough to become famous. Eddie and Josie Dimick died of diphtheria on the same day, at ages 5 and 9.

A statue of a dog rests next to the children's gravestones in honor of the family dog, who accompanied the family when they visited. Eventually, the dog started going to the grave by himself every morning and leaving at sundown. The children's parents had the statue built to commemorate his loyalty.

Early burials at the cemetery pieced together, bit by bit, a ``village of the dead'' -- the meaning of the Indian word ``Chippiannock.'' Bailey Davenport's mother, Susan Lewis, suggested the name.

Even with these winding trails of family histories, there's room for many more people to be buried at Chippiannock, where about 100 people are buried each year. Mr. Vogele said the cemetery will not reach its capacity for about 400 years.

``That number could increase because of the crematory and mausoleums,'' he said. ``There's no telling what people are going to do 400 years from now. They may be squeezed into cubes this big,'' he said, holding up two fingers pinched together.

Mr. Vogele opened the crematory in 1979 when the cemetery board built the offices across from his house. They also included a flower shop and bronze and granite memorial service -- ``one-stop shopping,'' he calls it. Family members can also buy memorial trees or bird feeders at Chippiannock.

Running these businesses also adds variety to Mr. Vogele's job. He and his family manage the forest land at the northeast corner of the cemetery, which is harvested every 10 years and sold to the highest bidder.

``There are all kinds of things you can do here,'' Mr. Vogele said. ``It isn't just burying the dead.''

However, when other people think of cemeteries, they often think of skeletons and ghosts. Mr. Vogele's daughter, Jill Vogele, 18, said classmates teased her about living at the cemetery when she was younger.

``They always asked if I dug up dead bodies,'' she said. ``When I was in grade school, I told everyone I was dead and that's why I live here.''

The Vogeles manage much more than just burials. They also do community education and activism. They regularly submit grant proposals to fund projects such as a slide show on Victorian symbols in cemeteries and a cemetery photography competition that took place during the early 1990s.

In 1994, the cemetery association launched its most popular event, the annual Epitaphs Brought to Life tour. On walking tours, visitors hear Quad-Cities actors portraying famous people buried at the cemetery.

The epitaphs tour was organized in 1994 to commemorate Chippiannock's listing on the National Register of Historic Places. Selected for its artistically and historically superb landscape design, it was the third Illinois cemetery to be listed.

However, even as the cemetery plunges into the past, it moves toward a future that relies on new-fangled technology to keep track of the people buried there.

Mr. Vogele said one of Chippiannock's most important years was 1996, when he installed the most up-to-date genealogical computer software available. With a click of the keyboard, he can call up historical records for anybody buried at Chippiannock.

Even without the computer system, Mr. Vogele remembers much of Chippiannock's history. Driving slowly around the cemetery on a sunny day, he pointed to small details of the gravesites: a small indentation in a statue of a cradle, the diameter of the world's largest granite sphere.

``It's the little things that people pass over,'' Mr. Vogele said. ``Everything has meaning.''

Chippiannock was the third Illinois cemetery to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Famous people buried at Chippiannock Cemetery

-- Philander Cable, president of the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad.

-- William Morrison, First African-American landowner in Rock Island.

-- Col. George Davenport, Indian trader murdered in his Arsenal Island home in 1845.

-- Bailey Davenport, long-time Rock Island mayor, Col. Davenport's son, wealthy landowner.

-- Minnie Potter, publisher of The Rock Island Argus for 22 years after her husband, John, died in 1898.

-- C.C. Knell, inventor of America's first easy chair.

-- By Laura Oppenheimer (January 22, 1998)

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