Lucas man catalogues northwest Kansas cemeteries in hopes of keeping memories alive



By MIKE CORN

mcorn@dailynews.net

LUCAS -- For Von Rothenberger, it's all about history. And of course small-town life.

That's why it was little surprise when he and Connie Dougherty came up with the idea of documenting cemeteries.

Not so much the population buried in them, but the art, the history they represent.

"We had been doing it for years as it is," he said of being aware of art in cemeteries, in part to answer questions from curious callers.

As co-directors of the Lucas Chamber of Commerce, Rothenberger and Dougherty have perhaps one of the most famous gravesites in the state, in the form of Samuel P. Dinsmoor, whose decaying body still is visible to visitors in the limestone mausoleum he built in his Garden of Eden.

The calls and the interest in the art surrounding Kansas cemeteries prompted them to create a Facebook page they can refer people to, as well as enlist the help of people from across the state.

And it isn't just about directions to a particular cemetery.

No, with the Facebook "Stories in Stone: Appreciating the Art in Kansas Cemeteries" page, there's details to be told, and photographs to not only preserve the history of the sites but also answer questions.

"Stories in Stone was created to enhance the appreciation and preservation issues for the oft-neglected and forgotten art found in Kansas cemeteries," the logic behind the site recounts.

It's a slow-growing page, typically viewed by friends and acquaintances of its creators.

But it is growing.

Already, there's a series of photographs from cemeteries, including Holy Cross Cemetery at Pfeifer. Fairport's cemetery in Russell County also is featured, the object of someone's interest in the area.

In the days when Rothenberger and others fielded calls about cemeteries, the information gathered soon became overwhelming.

"Before you knew it, you amassed so many photographs," he said. That's when the idea came up of "Hey, why don't we start up a Facebook page?"

And it targets a slightly different group of people, those in rural Kansas.

That's because considerable historical work has been done on big-city cemeteries.

"Not rural Kansas," he said.

The response has been "phenomenal," and growing.

"It hasn't been that long," he said of how long the page has been up, "but it's amazing how many people from all over the state are looking. Everyone has been posting, and love the idea."

Some people, Rothenberger said, now have adopted a habit of stopping off at cemeteries as they travel and taking photographs.

It's a natural addition to a second Facebook page Rothenberger's been instrumental in, one dealing with churches of Kansas.

"Worship on the Prairie: An Appreciation of the Churches of Kansas," isn't just about faith, but the architecture of the churches.

Russell County churches and Rush County's Loretta church have been featured already.