Any photos not otherwise credited are from the personal collection of Frank Passic, Albion Historian.
Morning Star, October 3, 1993, pg. 1
With this being the month of October and Halloween coming up, it is time for some cemetery stories during the next few weeks here in our Historical Notebook. I am entitling this weekís installment, "People Who Never Died."
If you visit Riverside Cemetery in Albion you will occasionally notice tombstones of people who never died--they are 120, 130, and even 140 years old and still living right here in Albion! Well, thatís what you might believe by looking at their tombstones: there is no death date! This somewhat touchy subject is a study in itself, as each family has its own reasons, excuses, and circumstances surrounding the unfortunate unfinished condition of the final resting place of their ancestors, who once were some of Albionís prominent citizens.
Using this as an example, there is a lady named Mary R. Fanning who must be 133 years old! That is, according to her tombstone in the Catholic section of Riverside Cemetery. She was born in 1860, but according to her tombstone, she hasnít died yet. Letís review the accomplishments of this Albion woman to see if she deserves to have her death date on her tombstone.
Mary R. Fanning was born in 1860, the daughter of John Fanning, an Irish immigrant who was very prominent in 19th century Albion. John Fanning served as a Village President of Albion, president of the Albion Board of Education, on the "Alert" fire department, was an Albion postmaster, and in the 1890s served as the superintendent of the Michigan School for the Blind in Lansing. The family home was on E. Michigan Avenue in the house now occupied by the chiropractic practice of Dr. Kirk Lee, across from Washington Gardner School.
During his term as postmaster, Fanning hired his daughter Mary to work as a clerk in the local post office, a position she held for 30 years until her retirement in the late 1920s. Mary was also a member of the very first graduating class of Albion High School in 1878, and has the distinction of being Albion High Schoolís first valedictorian. Her photograph appears in my book A History of the Albion Public Schools, page 187, recognizing that honor.
The Fannings were very faithful, devout, and active Roman Catholics. They regularly contributed to the local St. Johnís Catholic Church on E. Cass St., and were active members and participants. In May Fanningís estate, there was a large box of Catholic literature, books, and memorabilia which she had saved over her lifetime. Included in the material were various pamphlets and materials from the local St. Johnís Church.
The Fanning clan is buried in the Catholic section in Riverside Cemetery. All Fannings have tombstones, but there is no death date on Maryís (she died in 1953, but donít tell). At the time of her death, a cousin was the only close relative surviving.
Who is responsible for seeing that the final detail of getting a death date engraved on the tombstone is taken care of? There are usually several reasons for these unfortunate omissions. Sometimes the deceased was in the hospital, requiring expensive care which ate up any money left in the estate. There would be no funds left for the $50 engraving costs, even through the rest of the tombstone had been purchased and engraved earlier.
Sometimes the relatives keep the money and forget about their relativeís tombstone. Sometimes the deceased is the last of a family line and there is no one to execute the responsibility of seeing the finishing of the tombstone. In some cases, the person moves to Florida or Arizona when they retire. When they die, they are buried there instead, even through a tombstone had been made for them in Riverside Cemetery in Albion with an unfinished date.
Sometimes the place where the tombstone was purchased goes out of business and no arrangements were made for another firm to finish the monument, or sometimes the engraver dies and even tough he was paid previously, there is no successor to complete the work. In other cases, sometimes the widow remarries and is buried with her second husband, leaving the engraving with her name on it still on her first husbandís tombstone, unfinished. The sad part of all this is the deceased cannot defend themselves and take care of this matter, so their final resting stone remains unfinished, while distant cousins, nieces and nephews feel no responsibility for getting the matter taken care of.
So for whatever reason, excuse, or finger pointing, the death date of Mary R. Fanningís tombstone remains blank. This despite all her years at the Albion Post Office, her faithful commitment to St. Johnís Church, and being the first valedictorian of Albion High School. From our Historical Notebook this week we present a photograph of the unfinished tombstone of Mary R. Fanning in Riverside Cemetery [POSTSCRIPT: Since this article was published, a reader paid to have the death date engraved on the stone and it was accomplished. If you would like to help sponsor a date engraving, contact Homer Monument, 301 E. Main St., Homer, MI 49245. (517) 568-4432 or 1-800-257-8091]
As you stroll through the cemetery this Halloween season, observe and see how many other Albion residents are "people who never died." Here are some others you can look for. In parentheses are the ages these people must be since they havenít died yet: (Note: this would make a good "Twilight Zone" TV plot, wouldnít it?) Pearl M. Allison 1888-?? (she must be 105 years old); Henrietta J.A. Ashdown 1862-?? (157); Eleanor T. Avann (very active Methodist family here) 1849-?? (144); Mildred H. Chapman 1883-?? (110); Ada R.E.Clark 1850-?? (143); Ella Cole 1854-?? (139); Jacob S. Craig 1861-?? (132); Lucian M. Finley 1894-?? (99); Kathryn L. Davis 1887-?? (106); Louis Earl 1895-?? (98); Emily Eckmyre 1865-?? (128 years old); Emil Hahn 1886-?? (107); August W. Kamp 1876-?? (117); Lewis R. Key 1857-?? (136); Eleta Key 1892-?: (101); Mae H. Kimler 1885-?? (108); Flora A. Knickerbocker 1848-?? (145); Rosetta Lincoln 1836-?? (157); Betha Nass 1872-?? (121); Dorothy D. Robinson 1912-?? (81); M. M. Phelps 1867-?? (126); R.K.W. Van Nuys 1854-?? (139); Abbie A. Williams 1846-?? (147); May L. Wolcott 1865-?? (128); and Blanche L. Wolfinger 1881-?? (112).
There are others in Riverside Cemetery. How many can you find?
Someone Who Never Died.
All text copyright, 2020 © all rights reserved Frank Passic