Disturbed grave site in Chambersburg Township causes dismay
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By BETH ZUMWALT
The path to the gravesite of Mary Johnson, about two miles south of Chambersburg and a mile or so from the roadway is not well worn but members of the Kleinlein family have traveled it twice a year for generations. Johnson is buried on the property, having died at the age of 16 in 1799, making it the oldest grave in the state of Illinois, according to Rex Kleinlein.
“My great-grandfather bought some property, south of Chambersburg and throughout the years, my family was able to add to it,” Rex Kleinlein said. “Then after a few generations, some of those who inherited the property, wanted to sell their portions.”
Andrew Kleinlein, the original owner, passed 360 acres to his son Hershel, who then willed the property to his sons, Paul and Dick.
Along the line, part of the property was sold to Lew Cummings, who, according to Kleinlein, was one of — if not the — richest man in Pike County at the time.
Cummings, who had no heirs, gave the farm to Illinois College upon his death.
On the property is the grave site of Mary Johnson, who died when she was 16-years old .
“Her tombstone says she died Feb. 14, 1799,” Kleinlein said. “Looking at history, a lot of people thought she was murdered, but, others claimed it was an accident involving water. Maybe she fell in a well or something. No body seems to know.”
The Kleinlein family found the grave and despite it no longer being on family-owned ground, cared for it.
“My grandfather, my father and now I take flowers to her grave twice a year,” Kleinlein said. “In October, once the crops are out and again on the anniversary of her death, Feb. 14.”
But, this fall the trip to the site was not one of observing a family tradition, but one of dismay.
“There were four-wheeler tracks all around there and the stone and been knocked over,” Kleinlein said. “I called the president of Illinois College and the vice-president.
Kleinlein, who lives in Exeter, retiring there from more than 20 years in Carlinville, says his father, Paul, still lives in Chambersburg and although Mary Johnson’s grave is not in an official cemetery, the family wants it restored and preserved.
Representatives are scheduled to come this week and look at the site They have already looked into finding someone to repair the stone, according to Kleinlein.