His Father, Hermann Reckmann, brought his Children to the U.S. in 1881 three years after the death of his wife in 1878. They moved to Oregon around 1890 to farm near Grass Valley.
Hinrich Reckmann was born in Germany in 1872. He moved to Oregon around 1890 and died shortly after at the age of 19. He was laid to rest in a modest unkept cemetery, perched a top a slightly elevated hill above the surrounding farmland of Sherman County Oregon. Known as the Michigan Cemetery, its location is southwest of the small farming town of Grass Valley Oregon.
Hinrich died just one year after coming to Oregon. The reason for his death is unknown, but it would not be surprising to find out his death was either caused by sudden illness or a farming accident.
Abandoned farming homestead near the Michigan Pioneer Cemetery southwest of Grass Valley Oregon
What I found most amazing about Hinrich grave site, was simply...the ornate wooden fence. Based on its unique craftsmanship, and "lego" style dowel connections, I am going to assume the fence is close to being over 100 years old and was either built at the time of burial or closely thereafter. It is in poor condition, but then again, looks good for being well over 100 years old.
I tried to find an origin of design and age on the wooden fence. I found very little. But, I did learn other similar wooden fences dates back to the late 1800's, and a similar wooden design can be found in the Tuscarora City Cemetery in Nevada.
The Reckmann Family remained in the Grass Valley area and farmed the land. Hinrich's father and siblings are buried in the nearby IOOF Grass Valley Cemetery.
While driving down a mud laden dirt farm road, out of the corner of my eye something caught my attention . Up on a hill that was over grown with native grasses and blackberries stood an old red sign. Written in a hand carved style lettering and painted white, it read, Gravelford Pioneer Cemetery 1884. I had to stop and check it out.
While standing before the sign I looked around but couldn't find the headstones that would be associated with a pioneer cemetery or any cemetery for-that-matter. I cautiously walked up a small deer-like trail that led to the edge of a young forest with a makeshift worn fence boarding the deer trail. About half way up the fence line, a brand new gate stood, no older than a year, welcomed me, but still no sight of a cemetery. I opened and entered through the gate. The grassy trail led into the trees.
For those who know me, know I’m not a fan of watching horror movies. At the same time, I have this passion for old cemeteries. Especially the pioneer ones being my favorites. I don’t associate horror and cemeteries as being on the same playing field, nor do I find ghosts, goblins, vampires and paranormal activity in cemeteries either. On this adventure I will have to admit that the idea of heading into a dark forest in search of cemetery did send a few chills down my spine with doubt especially knowing I am out in the middle of what some would considered "no where".
Before entering the depths of the dimmed forest, I had to jester a bow to get under a few low hanging branches of an old Douglas Fir tree. When I stood back up, there it was. Just inside the shadows of the trees, a cemetery. The forest floor was full of headstones scattered throughout. The headstone of J.H. Chandler greeted me. Immediately mystery shrouded over the cemetery, beyond the fact of being in a forest.
According to cemetery records, a baby...the daughter of Isaac Chandler is also suppose to be buried in this cemetery. But, the birth and death dates are unknown, and there is no headstone to be found.
Records also list J.H. Chandler birth as being July 11, 1881, but no death date is listed...even though it is clearly carved on the headstone. One possible explanation to the lack of his death date could be that most of the bottom half of the headstone of J.H. Chandler is buried and being engulfed by the roots of the nearby Douglas Fir tree. On my visit, I could clearly read, March 7. I wanted to know more, but felt it would be disrespectful to dig out enough debris to finish reading the year, then again, no is here, but me, right?
Ferns, moss, and a thick layer of pine needles filled the forest floor. The damp smell of a healthy forest filled the air. One would find the place perfect for mushroom hunting. The natural process of tree limb death lay scattered about. With the growth of the trees, less sunlight reaches the forest floor, keeping the place dark, damp, and mysterious. More and more of what was once new, is being embraced by the encroachment of the forest cycle. I found it somewhat ironic that the inscription on William Albert Bright's headstone reads, "Lost to sight yet dear to memory" coincides with the ground of the cemetery being lost in the forest. It is likely that at the inception of the cemetery plots, this hillside was once void of trees.
One of my favorite headstones belonged to Lois Alberta Hall, the infant daughter of James and Myrtle Hall, lived for only five days, suggesting she died either from complications from birth or the common crib death that took so many children back in the early 1900's. The headstone for Lois has two engraved sword ferns fronds on each side below the writing. It made me smile to see that nature also "engraved" a collection of live ferns, in which hugged her headstone.
Having a photographic fascination for spots off the beaten path, a cemetery provides seclusion from the familiar, an alternative from the harsh sounding roar of life that exists, not only externally, but in the dark recesses of cluttered minds. When walking among the granite headstones, stillness takes hold as parts of history, connecting past with present, puts the life-cycle into perspective.
The perspective of an unexpected tragedy resulting in death hovers over any cemetery, and for the Shook Family, tragedy hit hard. In late December of 1913 and the beginning of 1914, Samuel W. and Carrie M. Shook, along with their 8 children, moved into the North Fork Valley of the Coquille River. A month later, on February 1st, their 18 year-old son Morgan H. drowned after falling out of a boat while on the Coquille River.
Even in passing, an unexplained mystery surrounds the death of Morgan H. Shook. According to county records and even newspaper reports, Morgan died from drowning on February 1st 1914, yet his headstone death date reads February 1st 1913. Did Morgan's parents not realize the date was wrong? If they did, why did they leave it that way? Was it the lack of money for a replacement a factor? Or, was it something else?
To add to the Shook family dynamics and confusion, sitting next to the grave of 18 year-old Morgan Henry Shook is his Uncle, Henry Morgan Shook. The uncle died in 1922 at the age of 77 from a stroke, but cemetery records say he was 75, and his death certificate reads that his birth date is unknown. Henry Morgan Shook never married, so it is likely that he lived and worked with his brother Samuel, the father of Morgan Henry, and the Shook Family. One thing seemed obvious, Morgan was named after his uncle Henry. You following?
Carrie Mariah Allen Shook was the house wife to Samuel W. Shook, and mother of his eight children. According to Mrs. Shook's death certificate, she died from Chronic Valvular Heart Disease at the age of 63.
Something I observe while standing before the five headstones of the Shook family, was that the headstones belonging to both the son and uncle were the two largest and most decoratively engraved headstones of the five family members.
One would think the parents headstones would be the largest and most decorative. In theory, since both the son and uncle died prior to the death of the woman of the house, Mrs. Shook, one can assume, Mrs Shook was the one choosing the headstones for the two. Then when she died, Samuel Shook, the husband, most likely had the responsibility for his wife's headstone and might have taken a more financial approach to getting a smaller sized headstone for his wife.
The theory behind the smaller more financially practical headstone can be supported when Samuel Shook's son, Milo Carl Shook, died just a year after his mother. Both Milo's and his mothers headstones are exactly the same in size and design. The engraved artwork is the same as well, and both engraved names do not include their middle initials like the Uncle's and other son's headstone do.
According to Milo's death certificate, Milo C. Shook died at the age of 20 from Septicemia, or blood poisoning, after complications following a ruptured appendix. Milo's death spoke to me personally, for I had just recovered from a battle with Septicemia following insect bites that got infected.
A little over a year after Mr. Shook buried his son Milo and two years after he buried his wife Carrie, Samuel W. Shook at the age of 69 died at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Rachel Butler, of Dexter Oregon. His body was brought back to Myrtle Point for burial at Gravelford. I'm assuming his surviving children were responsible for his headstone, because above the name, Samuel W. Shook, reads, "Father", an engraved title that is not listed above the headstone of their mothers name.
What I get to experience by visiting this cemetery is the history of the area, and also the tragedy of what life can unexpectedly bring. And, it is all about the human condition — where we move, how we live and how we die. We all go through the same ups and downs in life and eventually we all end up returning to the earth in some way or another.
I do enjoy visiting old cemeteries. Morbid perhaps to some, yet for those who seek tranquility and a connection to history, there's no place like them. You are either a person who grasps that concept or you retreat from it.
I am not alone in the interest in old headstones and cemeteries. Some people devote much of their lives visiting burial grounds, not only as a link to family and the connection to the past, but because they find them to be quiet, beautiful, educational, entertaining and culturally significant, not to mention photogenic.
People who spend a lot of time in cemeteries are sometimes known as grave hunters, graveyard junkies or tombstone tourists. But there’s an official name for them: “taphophile,” from the Greek words taphos (grave) and philos (love). And taphophilia is an excessive interest in, or love of, cemeteries. It’s a ritual some might find strange.
Besides my interest in photography within the fenced walls of a cemetery, it's also the history I enjoy learning. IF you want to know about the area you live in or the area you are visiting, just go visit a cemetery. You’ll see and learn who the founding people are to a town or an occupied valley. You will get to see who and what they were all about.
In my book, the Gravelford Pioneer Cemetery is a cemetery like no other that I have been to. To find headstones sharing the same burial space with a thriving forest, amazed me. Most graveyards are manicured in different levels. But, at the Gravelford Pioneer Cemetery the caretaker is nature itself, and for that alone made my journey into the depths of a darkened forest worth it.