Scattered throughout the county, mostly west of US-77, are echoes of the past engraved on granite and limestone.
From neatly arrayed and trimmed rows in towns to small weathered country plots, county cemeteries tell stories of early settlement, growth, wealth and poverty, and much more.
One of the county’s taller and more impressive monuments to settlement and faith is likely among the least seen, as it sits in a small cemetery, St. Mary’s Catholic Cemetery, not quite a mile east of Tampa on 330th Rd.
At the back of the cemetery is a towering granite crucifix about 14 feet tall, including a two-tiered base with the inscription, “Sacred to the memory of the David Schwartzman family, R.I.P., 1920.” The date refers to the year it was erected.
The family first came to America in 1869, living first in Illinois before moving by covered wagon to Dickinson County in 1878. David and Maria Schwartzman had six children, and they settled near Tampa in 1885.
Two rows of markers along the east edge of the cemetery bear the Schwartzman name, and nearby are many relatives.
New visitors to Marion Cemetery who encounter locals before their trip are often told, “Be sure to look for Judge Riggs’ marker; you can’t miss it, it looks like a tree,” and indeed it does.
The intricately carved 9-foot tall limestone marker for Reuben Riggs, who settled in Marion in 1864, is best described as an oak tree trunk from which thick limbs were sawed off.
In place of the missing limbs, the Marion artisans who created it inscribed descriptions of Riggs: “An honest judge,” “Nature’s Nobleman,” “A Peacemaker,” and “A Poor Man’s Friend.”
A lily “grows” at the tree’s base, and leafy vines adorn opposite sides of the trunk.
Riggs served as county attorney, and died in 1873 when he was caught in a blizzard during a buffalo hunt in western Kansas.
A tiny cemetery on Old Mill Rd. lies in stark contrast to most others in the county, a remnant of the days when the adjacent Marion County Poor House was in operation.
Few of the carbon-copy concrete rounded headstones bear anything other than a name, and a flat marker near the back of the plot bears no name at all.
The inscription simply reads “Negro Boy.”
The three-story limestone poor house was built by the county in 1888 to serve the poor and disabled. It was a working farm that on average housed 12 people, returning an average of $200 a year to the county treasury.
No records have ever been found giving any clue as to the identity of “Negro Boy.”
Those interested in exploring these markers, as well as county cemeteries in general, need go no further than an Internet-linked computer.
One of the largest and best-known virtual cemetery sites is FindAGrave.com, with more than 152 million grave records.
Marion native Marsha Childs Postar, a 1967 Marion High School graduate who lives in Lubbock, Texas, has been a volunteer contributor to the site for 11 years, creating 8,700 memorial pages and contributing more than 5,700 photos of gravestones and cemeteries.
“My brother Mike and I did the Hackler Community Cemetery straight west of Tampa,” Postar said. “I posted everything there.”
Postar has been researching her family genealogy for about 25 years. FindAGrave has been a great help, she said.
“For one thing, you can find that one missing piece of the puzzle,” she said.
But searching cemeteries, whether on foot or online, can be a puzzle in itself thanks to missing or inaccurate records.
“Some people are entered twice; some entries make no sense at all,” Postar said. “Records have been lost in fires, they’ve been lost in floods; it’s not just Kansas, it’s everywhere.”
Researching sites like FindAGrave can help ease the work of locating graves when someone visits a site, particularly in smaller rural cemeteries.
“Small cemeteries don’t have row markers, so you have to figure out if row 1 starts on the east side or west side,” Postar said.
A large rough-hewn stone in Marion Cemetery is among the favorites Postar has seen in county cemeteries.
“John Costello’s in Marion is beautiful,” she said. “It’s big, it says he’s a pioneer.”