Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A Girl's Grave

It is a quiet niche along a hectic highway. Hundreds, probably thousands, of people drive past every day without noticing it. Truckers and travelers, carpoolers and commuters, maybe even you, zip by on this busy road at 55 or 60mph, never realizing that it exists, never dreaming of the tale that I am about to tell you.

It is the grave of Diana Whitney, a member of a wagon train headed west, who died of cholera July 23, 1823 and who was buried here along the trail. She is the only person known to have been buried in Ohio who was a member of a wagon train. There is a very old stone tablet marking her grave, and more recently, the historical society added a monument telling her story.

The stone marker is simple: “In memory of Diana, Daughter of Lemuel & Sarah Whitney, who died July 23, 1823, aged 16 years.”

I stop by to visit now and then, when I remember, when I can find the time, when I’m not in too much of a hurry to get where I’m going. I stop to commune with Diana, and to wonder about her. She and her party traveled these same paths as the truckers and travelers, the carpoolers and commuters, but at such a different pace. With the wagons laden with equipment essential for a new life and precious few personal possessions, Diana and her companions probably spent a good part of the trip walking to save the beasts. I imagine she thought about their destination while she walked, making plans for her future in this strange new world. What were her dreams, her aspirations? Did she have a sweetheart? How did she feel about this journey that took her from her home to a lonely grave so far away?

Others must think about her, too. People bring her flowers and talismans; hearts, angels, smooth pebbles, stuffed animals and toys. People remember her, nearly two centuries after her death. Her grave site is neat and well cared for. Litter is not allowed to accumulate around her. Flowers are replaced as they fade, gifts are left, and the little spot is never defaced.

I find it fascinating that these personal tributes keep appearing . Why do we care so much about someone so long gone? What draws us to Diana and her tale?

Perhaps the answer is on the historical marker, which reads in part:

“Diana Whitney, sleeping where the morning sun paints with strange scarlets and magic golds the surface of the river was 16 years old on that summer’s day long ago. In a later summer, this tablet was placed … to remind those who pause to read of a humble sacrifice woven into our country’s greatness.”

Sleep well, Diana.


Anonymous said...

Oh, how we do love graves of those long gone. Here in western NC, there are lots of isolated graves of those who died on the way west. I often visit them and ponder their lives as well. Thanks for a great blog.

KGMom said...

Very touching. Many people died on such journeys, but hearing the story of ONE is most moving.

Mary Ann said...

What an interesting story; it is interesting to think what her life must've been like. I'm curious to know where this is located...I'd like to visit myself.

Lynne said...

I've always felt drawn to cemeteries and especially like reading the stones in very old cemteries. There are lots of stories there.

KatDoc said...

I like old cemetaries, too (I think I may do a post on this in the future) but the unique thing about Diana's grave is the fact that it is right on the side of the road. Also, I am touched by the number of people who visit her. This is a popular road for the local motorcycle clubs to ride on a summer's day, and items bearing the Harley-Davidson logo can often be found. Funny.

Mary Ann:
You have probably passed this spot yourself - Susan Gets Native, too. It is on SR 52, just outside of Chilo, between the Meldahl Dam and Crooked Run Nature Preserve. As you drive east, it is on the left side of the road, not the river side. Look for it the next time you are out my way.


Susan Gets Native said...

Hey, I've seen that! I wondered what the heck it was. I will stop the next time I am out that way.

Holly said...

Ok, sorry I'm late on this one (been in Maine) but I had to chime in. I love old cemetaries too, love to look at old headstones and read epitaphs. While in Maine, I went to the cemetary to put flowers on my grand and great-grandparents, aunt and great aunts' graves and wandered for a bit. So sad to see the graves of children, one family lost 7 little ones all in the same month (mom says she thinks it was scarlet fever or diptheria, the mother was my great grammie's sister in law.

Last year they completed widening 295 in Maine and literally on the side of the interstate (like 2 feet) there is a very small, old cemetary, about twenty headstones. There is no town nearby now, although there probably was at one time. It's just south of Portland and I made a mental note of the signs just before it so next year we can pull over and I can look at it. I'd like to see what the dates are on the markers, I'm thinking that it goes back to the early 1800s, judging by the style of headstones.