For the descendants of Swiss immigrants, Sunday’s dedication service at Calin Cemetery was a “great day,” to honor the 17 children believed to have been buried there in September 1874.
More than 200 people attended the dedication ceremony with Brian Stuckey, chairman of the monument task force, introducing the speakers.
The stone measures 4 feet, 6 inches by 2 feet, 6 inches and cost $2,170, which was donated.
Jim Juhnke, a retired history professor at Bethel College, spoke about events leading to the death of so many children.
“When the immigrant ancestors reached Peabody in the fall of 1874, they lived in temporary housing near the Peabody railroad station,” he said.
Most of the men left to look for land with help from the Santa Fe Railroad Co. Some of the immigrants cultivated ground and planted winter wheat on two rented farms in McPherson County—an arrangement for the first season.
“While the men were gone,” he said, “an epidemic of disease, possibly scarlet fever or measles, afflicted the Mennonite children in Peabody.”
Some 17 children died in a short time, he said, and some of the families moved to Halstead, where even more children died.
It’s not certain how many children died, Juhnke added, which is why the stone reads: “Those believed to be buried here are among the following.”
Juhnke said it wasn’t unusual that there were no permanent markers for children or adults in the 19th century.
“The challenge for us in our age of modern scientific medicine is comprehending the role of disease and death 150 to 200 years ago,” he said
From 25 to 40 percent of children in Europe died before reaching age 5 during that time, he said.
“Our ancestors were more fatalistic,” Juhnke said. “For them death was an ever present reality, something beyond human control.”
Citing an example, Juhnke said his great-grandmother, Anna Schrag Shrag Goering lost a 2-year-old daughter in the Peabody epidemic of 1874.
The child’s name was Katharina, after Anna’s mother.
“What did it mean to lose a daughter in 1874?” he said.
According to what Juhnke’s mother told him, they were to give thanks because God had taken the child unto himself and now the child wouldn’t have to bear the burdens and sufferings of the world.
“It is appropriate for us to memorialize our ancestors here today in a spirit of wonder and mystery this stone can remind us of two things,” he said.
The first is of a pre-scientific world when death was a more present reality of our people and everyone else in those times, Juhnke said. The second reminder is that our attitude toward death has changed.
Another speaker, Don Stutzman, who represents the Catlin Cemetery Board, said he was amazed at how many people came to the dedication.
“We can honor the children while their parents pushed on 138 years ago,” he said.
He said he and his three brothers arrived in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
“Early in my life on the farm, I witnessed the demise of the thrashing machine, strawstacks and thrashing crews. Harvest was a rich time in my childhood,” he said.
Watching farmers sell out with the remaining farms getting larger, he said, small rural churches also experienced the stress as the membership declined.
“Dunkard Brethren Church, two miles west of here, left in the early 1940s,” he said. “In the late ‘50s, the rural Steinreich Mennonite Brethren Church, six miles east, closed its doors and Catlin’s church closed in 1961.”
Now in his 70s, Stutzman said he finds satisfaction in caring for the Catlin Cemetery and learning all he can about the settlers who lived here.
“We have a collection of both Mennonite church folks and local area farmers that have passed on and elected to be buried here,” he said. “We are truly a community cemetery.”
Juhnke added that it is appropriate to acknowledge how much everyone has benefited from the risks, sacrifices and undergirding Christian faith of the immigrant ancestors.
The names on the monument are: Johann Albrecht, Tobias Dirks, Freni Flickinger, Katharina Gering, Peter Gering, Peter Kaufman, Anna Krehbiel, Elizabeth Krehbiel, Elisabeth Schrag, Katharina Schrag, Andreas Strauss, Freni Stucky, Anna Voran, Jacob Voran, Maria Waltner, Frances Wedel and Salamon Wedel.