One of my more recent projects has been to research the history of Union Cemetery in Sharon Township.
This beautiful burying ground sits atop a hill with a lovely vista overlooking the prairie land to the west. In the far distance, the smoke stack from the Coffeen power plant is visible.
Shortly before his death, the Rev. Glenn L. Sharp, wrote a brief history of the Union congregation, telling that the first church, built of logs, was erected about 1835 by the Protestant Methodist congregation.
The church remained active at this site until the early 1870s, when a new church was built in Vera. Members of the Pummill, Sharp and Buckmaster families made up the congregation.
Upon learning this bit of information, I contacted Lucile Smith of Vandalia. Lucile had worked for some time on the Pummill family history, and I knew that if anyone could help me, it would be Lucile.
Not only did Lucile add information to what I already knew, she also included her thoughts on Memorial Day.
Lucile wrote: “My earliest recollection of Memorial Day was that in those days where I grew up we referred to it as Decoration Day.
“Even after I was married, my husband’s family, too, made a great day of it by coming back to Vandalia to decorate family graves, and we would have a big picnic at the park. They came from O’Fallon, Decatur and all around. Great fun!
“Even before we had our first Model T, my dad would hitch up his team to the wagon, [and] load up the mowing tools. There was no lawn mower at that time, as I can recall. There was a hand sickle (usually, more than one) and a reap hook (a long-handled tool with two handles on it).
“We’d get out our little sun bonnets or straw hats. The folks would fill up jugs with water, cut arm loads of peonies and whatever was blooming at the time.
“It seemed that we always had peonies at Decoration Day, though now it seems they are past their blooming stage on Memorial Day. Of course, we had vases. We couldn’t go to Wal-Mart and pick up nice, green cone-shaped ones, ready to fill and stick in the ground.
“We would take fruit jars – the nice ones you canned peaches in – fill them with the transported water, stuff with flowers and place them on every grave after the grass was chopped and the weeds pulled.
“This was necessary, as there was no 'perpetual care' in those days. That was left mainly up to the relatives of those buried there, and that was not easily accomplished. It was rather an isolated spot. No maintained road, no committee to get a voucher to have the knee-deep ruts in the ‘lane’ filled. You, or another volunteer, did what had to be done at that moment.
“On Decoration Day, graves were cleared, jars were filled with water and flowers. Friends greeted each other, took a good look for miles around them. The view (from Union Cemetery) is awesome. You could see for miles and miles. God was generous with his artwork when he created that area of Fayette County.
“It was a sweet and sour event even for a small child. Mission accomplished, my grandmother didn’t want to leave. Half of her children and her husband were buried there. She wanted to stay!
“Through the years, I remember my dad, himself being a very busy farmer, would make his way to the cemetery with a mower, as would a lot of others, to cut the grass in summer months. Then, when he retired, he would take his push mower and mow in the summer times.
“They tried fixing the lane, but the rains would wash it out. Huge ruts were always there. Gradually things got better. Volunteers keep it alive.
“Finally, Leonard Spain, with his construction equipment, became involved in a big way. He had always contributed to the upkeep of the cemetery. Leonard’s family members are buried in a well-kept plot in the north part of the area.
“Leonard’s father was Frank Spain, and his grandfather was Marshall Spain. Leonard’s grandmother, Minnie Lawler Davis Jones, was a sister to my grandmother, Frances Elizabeth Lawler.
“In the summer, my father, Dorah Pummill, and a lot of others, would have an ice cream social to make money to help finance the cemetery.
“Later, the Correctional Center had a program allowing a crew of special inmates to come in, and they did a wonderful job for us. The lane down to the main road was made passable year round. New fences were built, trees removed and improvements were made.”
Memories, such as those of Lucile, are all a part of the history of Union Cemetery.