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A live weekly radio adventure through Indiana history with host Nelson Price.

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November 12, 2022

Terre Haute cemetery and intriguing people buried there

Highland Lawn Cemetary Entrance

View of Highland Lawn CemetaryEver heard of a telephone installed in a mausoleum in case someone was buried alive and needed to call out for help? Did you know the first stewardess in the history of commercial airlines is buried in a Terre Haute cemetery? And were you aware that the historic cemetery's office was built as a waiting station for Interurban passengers?

Hoosier History Live will be exploring all of these aspects related to a landmark, Highland Lawn Cemetery, and an array of compelling people from western Indiana buried at the scenic graveyard, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. This show will follow up two of our recent programs, an exploration of the landscaping and design at historic cemeteries in which Highland Lawn was mentioned as an example of the Rural Cemetery Movement, as well as a show about notable people from Parke County and nearby areas.

Mike Lunsford, a popular author and storyteller based in Parke County, will return as Nelson's guest to share insights about Highland Lawn, where he has led tours for many civic groups; he also has written newspaper and magazine articles about people interred there. They range from prominent Hoosiers to working-class, poverty stricken and colorful characters from a broad region of western Indiana. The notables include Socialist, labor leader and presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs, who died in 1926 and whose life was the focus of a Hoosier History Live show in 2019.

Mike LunsfordThis time, our exploration will include the unusual request of eccentric Terre Haute businessman Martin Sheets, who wanted a working telephone installed in his mausoleum after his death in 1926. Sheets, a land speculator who sold cattle, was terrified of being buried alive; he also had a rocking chair, table and bottle of whiskey placed in the mausoleum, according to Mike Lunsford. Some years later, the telephone finally was removed.

More than 50,000 burials have occurred at Highland Lawn since the first in 1884. Mike Lunsford has written about its "rolling hills and ravines . . . wandering paths, open hilltop vistas and placid ponds." An Interurban line ran along the National Road, which is just south of the cemetery; a waiting station built in 1909 for Interurban passengers now is the office for Highland Lawn. Hoosier History Live explored the bygone, extensive Interurban system across Indiana during a show in 2013.

A national pioneer in another mode of transportation, aviation, is buried at Highland Lawn. Ellen Church Marshall (1904-1965), a registered nurse, became the first stewardess (as flight attendants were called then) in 1930 after convincing an airline to hire nurses because they could, as Mike Lunsford put it, help "curb the airsickness that plagued the industry then" as well as tend to ill or distressed passengers on the "often rocky, cold and uncomfortable commercial flights." Ellen Church Marshall even designed the wool jackets, skirts, capes and berets that the first group of stewardesses wore over their nurses' uniforms.

Martin Sheets and Ellen Church Marshall

She had aspired to be a pilot, but initially was discouraged because of sexism in the 1920s. She eventually served as an Army nurse in Europe during World War II, became a licensed pilot and was an administrator at various hospitals. Ellen Church Marshall moved to Terre Haute in 1952 to direct a nursing program at Union Hospital, eventually becoming its chief administrator.

In addition to discussing Ellen Church Marshall, our guest Mike Lunsford will describe the unfortunate fate of four members of the Richards family who perished during the sinking in 1914 of the RMS Empress of Ireland ocean liner and are interred at Highland Lawn. The patriarch, George Clement Richards, was an English immigrant who came to Terre Haute in 1888 and became a prominent businessman and the owner of coal mines. Along with various relatives, he was aboard the ocean liner for a visit to his homeland when it sank in the St. Lawrence River after leaving Quebec City in Canada.

Others buried at Highland Lawn (whom Mike Lunsford will discuss during our show) include:Max Ehrmann

  • Dr. Allen Pence (1819-1908), a prominent physician and druggist in Terre Haute who became involved in the Spiritualist movement popular during the Victorian era. He donated a room above his apothecary to use for séances.

  • Max Ehrmann (1872-1845), a poet whose masterpiece, titled "Desiderata", was published during the 1920s but became even more popular 50 years later.

  • And Dr. Frank Wiedemann (1872-1961), a Terre Haute physician who was an early pioneer of the X-ray machine. A believer in the "joy of healing", he was among the first doctors nationally to promote the use of music as a therapeutic agent.

  • Our guest Mike Lunsford's books include "This Old World" and "Field Notes and Other Stories". Of Highland Lawn, he writes: "Despite its quiet shade and melancholy, (it) retains an air of surprise, a sense of the pilgrimage. There is much life there: geese and deer, bluebirds and hawks, for example, have come to live on the grounds."

    Roadtrip: Dr. Ted’s Musical Marvels in Dale

    Monte CassinoEveryone has at least ONE oddball collection, and Guest Roadtripper and author and travel writer Jane Ammeson suggests a visit to southwestern Indiana to see Dr. Ted’s Musical Marvels in Spencer County!  Yes, it’s all in the rolling hills right near Ferdinand, St. Meinrad, Santa Claus, and even young Abraham Lincoln’s boyhood home!    

    Back in 1973, Dr.Ted Waflart, a mechanical engineer, doctor, collector, and builder, restored a 1907 French fairground organ, and an obsession was born. Now a museum, Dr. Ted’s Musical Marvels displays finds such as a De Roze Roos (The Pink Rose), a Dutch street organ, a Regina Music Box made in 1898, and a Caliola, an air driven wooden pipe calliope. Jane will tell us more on Saturday!



    Dr. Ted's Marvels

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