HANSEL CEMETERY

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Lyle Morley

By Jean Marie Hall

Freelance Writer

 

“It was the second Tuesday of the month and the Morley cousins were all sitting at the Golden Age Activity Center in Manchester, Iowa, where we meet once a month, when Marilyn Gibbs of Manchester suggested I send write an article about Hansel Cemetery. I’m always telling them about the improvements we’ve made. The cemetery is from my mother’s (Grace Blanch [Hansel] Morley) side of the family. She is the great-granddaughter of John Hansel who donated the land for the cemetery. It was donated so his descendants would have a place to be buried free of charge. It was free for many years but later an upkeep fee was charged. It now costs $400 per lot,” writes Lyle Morley.

Lyle Morley, Osage, Iowa, is the caretaker of the old pioneer cemetery of his ancestors. He began tending to the Hansel Cemetery in Clayton County after his retirement in 2005 and continues to this day, despite his move to Osage and his age (he is in his mid-seventies). He keeps tabs on its upkeep regardless of the fact that he lives roughly 100 miles away. Taking pride in the preservation and maintenance, he loves to tell the improvements that he has seen take place during those years, such as a new bulletin board that was erected in 20ll to direct visitors to the burial places of their loved ones while also enabling genealogists to get vital birth and death information for their research. Visitors, as well as Lyle, often post pictures on it. 

“A new gate was installed in 2009 replacing a 1930s version that had been vandalized. It was damaged when someone ran into it! A bench was donated in 2012 to make the cemetery more elderly-friendly. To keep the cemetery looking neat, a new trash receptacle was brought in a couple of years ago. A new tool shed was added in 2014,” relates Lyle.

John Hansel and his family of eight children moved from Virginia to Clayton County, Iowa, in 1851. In 1863, once John and his family had become established farmers in the area, John decided to donate a half acre of land for the beginning of a Hansel Cemetery. The land he donated was on a high point of land with a lovely view near Waymon Creek in Mallory Township. Perhaps John was envisioning his descendants gazing at the surrounding countryside that in all likelihood, looked then very much like it looks today. For over a century, most of the farmland surrounding the cemetery was owned by Hansel descendants. Over the years it has been sold off but continues to be small family farms. The land bordering the cemetery was farmland then and continues to be farmed. Some additional land was donated for the cemetery over the years by the James Zearley family.

The cemetery survived by getting its income from donations and a yearly potluck dinner that has continued to today. Years ago, the potlucks were held on the 4th of July at the cemetery or at the bottom of the hill in a grassy shaded area. Visualize, if you will, family members and their neighbors dressed in the fashions of the day searching for a little shade in which to share a meal on a sunny summer day. Perhaps they laid blankets down to sit upon and on which they set out the food such as fried chicken, pies, cakes and whatever garden goods that were ripe. 

“There are only pine trees for shade in the cemetery, even up to now. One of those trees was planted in the 1960s by Caroline (Moser) Harbaugh and a group of Girl Scouts,” remembers Lyle.

At some point in more recent history, the diners moved indoors and changed the date of the annual potluck dinners. The participants currently hold the potluck dinner the Sunday before Memorial Day about five miles away in the Elkport Community Center.

The Hansel Cemetery has 38 United States veterans dating back to the Civil War. The cemetery’s most recent project was to complete a Veterans Memorial to honor those servicemen buried there. That goal was accomplished in the fall of 2014. 

Clayton County gives $5 for the care of the graves of each veteran buried in the county. For Hansel Cemetery that amounts to $190.  Mallory Township trustees give the cemetery $800 a year; the rest of the expenses are covered by generous donations, mostly from the large aggregation of Hansel descendants which Lyle gladly acknowledges.

John Hansel died in 1883 and is comfortably buried in the Hansel cemetery that he founded. I’m sure he would be happy to know that one of his 21st century descendants is taking good care of it.

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