The Ottumwa Courier

Southeast Iowa

October 29, 2012

Oakland Cemetery history tour draws well

CENTERVILLE — The eighth annual Haunted History Tour at Oakland Cemetery was actually two — the first was a daylight tour that started at 3 p.m. and the second was a luminary tour that started at 6:30 p.m.

Participants walked through the west side of Oakland Cemetery in Centerville and listened to nine living people tell the story of 10 historically significant individuals with ties to Centerville or buried in the cemetery.

The living narraters included Enfys McMurry, Brad McConville, Dewey McConville, Dan Wilson, Rollie Reznicek, Kris Koestner, Debbie Robinson, Bette Howell and Tyler Morgan.

More than 50 took part in the 3 p.m. daylight tour. The 6:30 p.m. tour featured 1,000 luminaries aglow along the route.

The 3 p.m. tour started at the Arch of Remembrance with Wayman (Wayne) Minor whose story was re-enacted by Debbie Robinson playing the role as Stella Jojovavich; Dewey McConville re-enacted the life of Susannah McKee; Judge Daniel Wilson re-enacted the life of Sen. L.L. Taylor; Bette Howell re-enacted the life of John Lankford; Rollie Reznicek re-enacted the life of Dr. Franklin Eells; Kris Koestner re-enacted the life of Jacob Hatzenbeeler; Brad McConville re-enacted the life of Francis Marion Drake; Enfys McMurry re-enacted the lives of Jesse J.M. Beck and Countess Vera Elgin deMueller and Tyler Morgan re-enacted the life of E.P. Paul Cushman.

Lisa Eddy, curator at the Appanoose County Historical and Coal MIning Museum, acted as the tour guide.

Each one of the 10 historic figures had a story to tell.

•Wayman (Wayne) Minor, one of 13 children and family moved to Diamond in Johns Township in Appanoose County near Plano in the early 1900s where his father, Ned Minor, farmed and worked in the coal mines. Wayman enlisted in the U.S. Army and served with Company A, 366th Infantry Regiment, 92nd Division, an all black combat unit in WWI. Wayman was buried in the Saint Mihiel American Cemetery at Thiaucort, France, after his death just hours prior to the signing of the armistice on Nov. 11, 1918.

Wayman's name is on a bronze tablet on the WWI Arch of Remembrance memorial at Oakland Cemetery.

• Susannah Thompson McKee, known as the first business woman in Centerville, moved here with her husband, Alexander, and five children in 1865. They would go on to have eight children.

Susannah and Alexander would purchase a store and house and call it the Jefferson House or Wagon's House and expand it to include a three story brick hotel. In 1893 the hotel caught fire, which was the cause of Susannah's death after trying to alert occupants of the fire and then jumping from a third floor window to escape the flames.

The structure was rebuilt on the same foundation and is today it is known as the Continental Hotel.

• Sen. Lewis L. Taylor was very active in Iowa state politics and publishing. In 1879 Taylor was elected to clerk of court; in 1903 he was elected to serve in the state Senate; in 1912 he worked with a Chicago publishing company to compile his two volume set, "The Past and Present of Appanoose County."

•John Lankford came to Centerville and in 1855 bought a furniture and undertaking business that he kept going until 1912.

When Lankford retired he was called the oldest undertaker in the state. Lankford was a member of the first Centerville City Council.

Lankford was instrumental in raising the money to place the Civil War Memorial on the courthouse lawn.

• Dr. Franklin Eells came to Centerville in 1855 at the age of 25.He was medical doctor by trade but he started  to make and sell proprietary medicines, which became a big business, so he quit the medical practice.

• Jacob Hatzenbeeler, a German immigrant, owned the southeast corner of the Centerville Square where he ran a fish and meat market.

• Francis Marion Drake and family when he was 16 years old moved to Davis County where his father founded the town of Drakeville.

Drake, following several excursions out west to California, would start a store, "Drake and Sons" in Drakeville and then one in Unionville, Iowa.

Drake served in the Civil War at the age of 31. At point he was taken hostage to a prison in Texas but was released in 1864.

After military Drake moved to Centerville where he engaged in banking and railroad. Drake would become president of the Centerville National Bank.

Drake studied law and practiced it in Centerville.

Drake founded Drake University in Des Moines.

In 1895 Drake was elected governor of Iowa and he served one term. After leaving office Drake built Centerville's Drake Free Public Library and it was dedicated in 1903.

Drake Avenue in Centerville is named in his honor.

•Jesse J.M. Beck came to Centerville at the age of 30 in 1903 and partnered with John Needham to run the Iowegian, which they did for 40 years.

Beck in 1938 won the Master-Editor-Publisher Award and lived long enough to see his son, Robert, win the same award in 1963.

•Countess Vera Elgin deMueller was raised in Mystic and Centerville and was said to have exceptional beauty. In her 20s she moved to New York City where she became a top model.

During her 20s and 30s deMueller was photographed more than 16,000, making her the most photographed model in the world.

•E.P. Paul Cushman was born in Centerville in 1891.

Cushman is best known for writing the Centerville High School fight song, "Scarlet and Black."

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