Once upon a time there was a man named John Wilburn Davis. John moved to Hiawatha, Kansas in 1879 and promptly fell in love with his boss' daughter, Sarah. Sarah loved John too, but Sarah's family did not approve. Still, true love won out, and John and Sarah were married.
Years of wedded bliss followed, in which John and Sarah started their own farm and prospered. All was well until Sarah passed away in 1930 at the age of 92 leaving John a lonely, grief-stricken, wealthy man.
John tried to settle on the best way to show his enduring love for Sarah. This was the Depression era, so local townspeople might have hoped that his memorial to Sarah might benefit the community. A memorial hospital, for instance, would be nice.
John, however, had other ideas of how to waste his money, and soon set out to create an extravagant memorial to Sarah. He commissioned a pair of statues, carved by a master Italian craftsman out of famed Carrara, Italy, marble, depicting himself and Sarah at the time of their 50th wedding anniversary. However, when he saw the statues beneath the huge marble canopy, he decided they looked too bare and started commissioning additional statues - depicting the happy couple at various stages in their lives - to keep the first two company.
By the time he finished the entire memorial consisted of 11 life-size statues - some in marble and some in granite - along with a marble canopy and wall. Davis exhausted his entire fortune in constructing the memorial... and some people think that may have been the point since he had no heirs and he hated Sarah's family and certainly didn't want any money going to them. However, this sort of backfired on him since he ended up in a poorhouse after a doctor diagnosed him with "terminal" cancer... that ended up taking 10 years to kill him. Remember, kids: don't give away *all* your money, even if the doctor says you're not going to need it!
Incidentally, the memorial has amazingly become the biggest attraction in Hiawatha. I say "amazingly" because you know how many other exciting things there are to see in Hiawatha, Kansas (population 3,417).
Of course, it comes as no surprise that when I found myself with a spare weekend to kill in Topeka, Kansas in May, 2005, I decided that instead of simply sleeping the weekend away (which I had done before), I would actually make the hour drive to the Davis Memorial. And this is what I found...
After enjoying the Davis Memorial, I wandered around the rest of the cemetery, but it really isn't terribly interesting. About the only grave I found worth photographing was this nice statue memorializing someone named Pearl. Still, shames in comparison to what ol' John did!
And thus ended my trip to Hiawatha, Kansas - where even homely farmers can be memorialized in Carrara marble!
Additional Information from Vicki
"This isn't quite the story I heard.
"I lived in Hiawatha, Kansas when I was a child. My father, William Lee Graham worked for Dr. Gordon Teal, a Dentist. We lived there from the time I was two years old in 1950, until we moved to Emporia, Kansas, when I was in fourth grade, in 1958. My younger sister, Helen, was not the first child born in that hospital, but one of the first. There were so few babies at the time that my mother knew it was her baby crying in the nursery, and it bothered her so much she asked them to bring my sister into her room and she would take care of her. (Probably one of the first babies to room in with her mom). Helen cried so much that she ended up with a small hernia under her bellybutton which she had to have fixed when she was an adult having her own children. Mother swore that it was the Hiawatha hospital that caused that hernia, as they let Helen lay and cry for hours at a time. Helen was the third girl, Vicki being the oldest born in Kansas City, Kansas, Beverly following 17 months later also born in Kansas City, then Helen 15 months later and Mark both of whom were born at the Hiawatha hospital. Mark was born in December 1953.
"My father who is now deceased, and my mother who is still living (Evelyn Graham) told me the story as they heard it when I was quite young. We used to visit that memorial, and though not so beautiful as you would have expected, was not meant to be beautiful, but meant to spend every single penny that Mr. Davis' wife left at her death. The story was that he and she didn't live such a wonderful life, as a matter of fact toward the end I think they were barely able to tolerate one another. She did not leave the money to him, but rather the money was to be used to bury both of them, and the rest was to go to the city of Hiawatha to build the hospital, and not left for him or anyone in the family. I don't believe she left any heirs.
"Mr. Davis was furious, so began the job of spending every cent he could on that memorial, so there would be none left for the people of Hiawatha to build their hospital. If he was not to have her money, he would see to it that the city didn't receive it either.
"The first statues carved were of beautiful marble, (when my mother and father were not looking) and we visited the graves, we children would sit in the empty chairs, and sometimes on the laps of Mr. and Mrs. Davis. As the years wore on the money almost gone, rather than not finish the memorial, Mr. Davis had the last statues carved from less expensive materials, so that there was not one single cent left for the people of Hiawatha to build their hospital. So, the town lost their hospital, and Mrs. Davis who was philanthropic minded, was not able to help build the hospital with her money. I can imagine her turning over in her grave over that one.
"The ironic ending is that the people of Hiawatha who hated Mr. Davis, who was then a pauper,were required to pay for his burial, making the anger run even deeper. When we lived there, he was not remembered kindly, and the memorial deteriorated over the years even to the point that someone knocked his head off. When the people realized they were losing tourists, they began taking care of the memorial and tried to make repairs. I remember the cemetery as being quite pretty and very well kept when I was a child living there."
Lee Graham Buhrle