Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Governor and The Gravedigger

Graveyard Rabbits Carnival for the September 2010 is "A Local Celebrity In Our Mist". This topic was submitted by Tina Micheal Ruse, who authors the blog, Campo Santo - Holy Ground. Is there a local celebrity in your local cemetery? Show us a photograph of the grave and tell us what makes the person a celebrity.

My first thought when I read this challenge was of Governor Charles M. Croswell, interred at the beautiful Oakwood Cemetery, Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan.  He surely is a celebrity.  In 1846 he was appointed deputy county clerk (of Lenawee).  He was the Whig candidate for Lenawee County clerk in 1848. In 1850, as a Whig, he was elected to the post of register of deeds. In 1854 Charles was a member and secretary of the state convention now famous as the convention "Under the Oaks" at Jackson, Jackson County, Michigan for the formation of the Republican party. In 1862 he was named city attorney for Adrian (county seat of Lenawee). Later that year he was elected Mayor and in the fall of 1862 he was elected State Senator. He was reelected twice as senator. In 1872 he became a State Representative and also Speaker of the House. He was nominated by the Republican party as a candidate for governor and was elected by a margin of over 23,000 votes. He was the 17th governor of Michigan serving from 1877 to 1881.  There is a family plot at Oakwood, the photo below was taken there.  There are also references to burial in a family vault, which I have not seen or visited.

However, right after thinking about Charles, I remembered another type of celebrity connected to Oakwood Cemetery.  One of the gravediggers.  His name was William J. Clanton.  The following article explains better than I can, why I feel he is a celebrity.  (I submitted this article to the Lenawee County GENWEB several years ago, it is reproduced here in full, as I submitted.)

"Ex-Slave Digs Graves
     This article was found in the Lenawee County Historical Society Museum Archives, in a Record Book for Oakwood Cemetery, Adrian, Lenawee County, Michigan:
     Originally appeared in the Detroit News-Tribune, January 29 (maybe 30, the handwritten date was very hard to read), 1902
     Aged Ex-Slave Has Housed 5,000 in Adrian's City of the Dead
     "Come, my spade. There is no ancient gentleman but gardners, ditchers and grave diggers. They hold up Adam's profession" -- Hamlet.
     Adrain, Mich., Jan. 18.-- Few localities can produce a more unique personality than that of William Clanton. "Bill" Clanton has lived in Adrian for 35 years. It would be nearer the truth to say he has lived during that time in Adrian's city of the dead, Oakwood cemetery. He has been on the pay roll as grave digger all those years. In that time he has, by actual count, dug graves for and "gathered in" 5,000 people.
     Clanton was born in slavery in Louisiana in 1830. His master was his father. He sent "Bill" north when he was quite young to educate him. Carey academy in Ohio was the school selected. This college was subsequently merged into the Farmers' college in Hamliton county, near Cincinnati. Clanton was the only colored boy ever known to attend that school and numbered among his classmates the late Benjamin Harrison, a brother of the great Henry Ward Beecher, and many other men who have since attained national and world-wide reputations.
     He tells of many college pranks played with these men and speaks of them all in the most familiar terms. Halstead's appearance he describes as "much the same as the rest of us, with the exception of a tall hat that he always wore and a fiddle he always had under his arm."
     When 27, Clanton came to Michigan, and during the stirring times preceding the civil war, figured prominently in underground railways which were helping young colored refugees to the north. Then he moved to Adrian, and as if to still keep his "underground" habit, went to digging graves for a living. Under his services Oakwood has come to be one of the most beatiful cemeteries to be found anywhere.
     He is still hale and hearty and a most respected citizen. When The Tribune asked him to get his picture taken, as he had never had one of himself, some one suggested that he put on a "biled shirt", but "Bill" rebelled, saying, "No, I couldn't look natural in one--we'll go up just as I am.& And he did. He is 72 and still digging away. "

His death certificate, thanks to Seeking Michigan, note he died just months after the article.

Surely Oakwood's celebrity gravedigger William J. Clanton was working there when Governor Charles M. Croswell died and was interred.  The paths of two local celebrities passing in death.  Both buried at Oakwood Cemetery. 

I have created a memorial for William J. Clanton at Find A Grave.

Copyright 2010, CABS for Reflections From the Fence


Dorene from Ohio said...

What a wonderful story of two hard working individuals from Michigan! Great post!

Apple said...

There's nothing wrong with any kind of honest work but it seems such a shame that an educated man ended up a laborer and at a job few would want.