The Richest Place on Earth

The richest place on earth is not a bank vault or a gold mine or a collector’s stash of priceless art. I found it today, in an unexpected place.

When Greg and I needed to make a trip south into Arkansas, we seized the opportunity to return to Joplin on country roads. There was a reason we headed into the “boonies”. I wanted to stop at an old cemetery, and walk among the gravestones.

Some people are creeped out by cemeteries. They are, after all, the final resting place for the bodies of loved ones. Their souls are free however and not attached to these places. I find cemeteries fascinating, full of information and stories.

Myles Munroe shares a great perspective about graveyards. He wrote:

“The graveyard is the richest place on the surface of the earth because there you will see the books that were not published, ideas that were not harnessed, songs that were not sung and drama pieces that were never acted.”

The Richest Place on Earth

Concord Cemetery

I’ve been working on my family tree this past year, alternating back and forth between my paternal and maternal lines. Greg has been doing the same. I have the advantage of ancestors buried in cemeteries within 90 minutes of Joplin.

We altered our trip home slightly this afternoon so that I could visit Concord Cemetery in Barry County. This isolated spot is deep in the country, located on top of a hill surrounded by woods. I visited Concord in 1994 with an aunt, or I would never have known about this remote cemetery. Greg and I returned to this small graveyard the next year with two of our kids. On the way home we were involved in a serious car accident that altered my life.

Thankfully I have at last healed from the injuries and chronic pain that the accident caused. However, perhaps because of the negative association with the accident, I never returned to Concord Cemetery, until today.

It appears as it did in 1995…beautiful and lonely, with a restless wind that makes the surrounding trees sway and sigh. Sounds and movements beneath the trees draw my eyes repeatedly but I never see anyone or anything there.

The Richest Place on Earth

Finding Ancestors

My knowledge about my family has broadened since my last trip to Concord. I remembered where my family members are buried, however I wanted to search for gravestones with other surnames connected to my paternal lines. We decided to walk the entire cemetery, row by row.

With temperatures in the 50s and late afternoon sunshine slanting through the trees, walk it we did.

As it turned out, all my ancestors lay grouped together in the oldest part of the cemetery. It was interesting, however, to walk among the stones, reading names and birth/death dates. I remembered the quote about life being lived in the dash between those two dates. So many stories, celebrations, challenges and sorrows represented by a small horizontal line. Rather than feeling sad or morbid about that symbolic – , it made me thoughtful.

I found my people…Lauderdales, Antles and Joneses. In this old resting place I have great-great and great-great-great grandparents. Standing before their tombstones I recall fragments of their stories and long to know more. What brought them to Barry and McDonald Counties in Missouri? Why did they say “Here we will build our lives”? Did their spirits sense my presence and my questions, drawing them to surround me?

The Richest Place on Earth

Fulfilled Lives

We had time to stop by a second family cemetery near the tiny town of Rocky Comfort, in McDonald County. There we walked about a third of this larger graveyard. I quickly located my Lauderdale grandparents, Aunt Roxie, Aunt Glenda and cousin Jeffrey. My dad’s baby sister is buried near her parents. Little Margaret‘s tombstone reminded me that although her life was brief, it had a lasting impact on my father’s family.

Using information from my genealogy research, I located Hills, Kirks, Johnsons and Stipps. These are connected to my family lines. I know the Montgomery branch has a place on my tree as well. I’m still researching that line, which originated from Scotland.

As the shadows grew longer and the wind colder, we slowly moved back to the car. I thought about the words of Myles Munroe. Did any of my ancestors die with their songs still within them? Did they have ideas that they never developed? Dreams that did not materialize?

Beyond the richness of the cemetery, the land of unrealized potential, came a chorus of voices borne on the wind. Hundreds joined my family members, encouraging me onward.

“Enjoy it all. Seize this day…and the next one…and the next one. Don’t fritter life away, caught in regrets or should haves. Go for it.”

What a great cloud of witnesses. And what a powerful reminder to live life, that dash, to the fullest. This is the richest place on earth, indeed. My family, I will be back, to learn more.

The Richest Place on Earth

Day 199: Creepy Geocaching

 geocaching Sherwood Cemetery e

My grandson Dayan and I discovered the thrill of geocaching back on Day 72. Geocaching is a type of treasure hunting game played using a phone’s GPS. There is an app that includes a map of nearby caches, coordinates and hints, if you need them. We had fun the first time we played, although we only found 1 of our 2 caches. Today, for my first, Dayan and I teamed up again to geocache, focusing on the Carl Junction area.

As we ate lunch, Dayan pulled up the map to discover what caches were hidden nearby. We realized that there were three caches in small cemeteries in the area. One of the cemeteries was well known to us because we drive by it often. It also has a reputation for being spooky, due to the burial there of a mass murderer. We agreed that today, our treasure seeking would take a creepy turn. We were up for the challenge and after lunch, off we went.

Our first stop was Twin Groves Cemetery, off of 96 Highway. Neither of us knew this small cemetery existed. Using my phone’s GPS system and Dayan’s tracking skills, we began our search. I have to say, Dayan has a knack for finding these caches. He just seems to start in the right spot, finding the general location in a matter of seconds. We cheered our success as Dayan spied the cache nestled in the V formed by two trees. I signed the log and we recorded our find through the Geocache app. While we were there, we walked around and looked at the old headstones and talked about those buried there. Dayan discovered many who were born prior to the Civil War.

geocaching Twin Groves Dayan e

On we traveled to our second location, called Burning House on the app. This spot, while not a cemetery, was creepy for other reasons. After a fire and demolition, all that was left of this house was a basement and one section of foundation above ground. We figured out rapidly that the cache was hidden in the foundation, since it would be unsafe to drop down into the exposed basement. Dayan retrieved our treasure and then carefully replaced it after I signed the log. Further down the dirt drive was a tall stand of weeds and trees. There appeared to be someone living back there so we didn’t linger long at this site.

geocaching burning house e

We were excited we had found two for two and that encouraged us to head to the next cemetery on our list, Peace Cemetery. It is ironic that this place has the word Peace in its name. It has been the focus of several paranormal investigations because of unrest here. Dayan read aloud about Billy Cook, the murderer who is buried there, and suddenly our creepy geocaching session also became a history lesson. Billy Cook was known as a spree killer, going on a rampage over 22 days, in January of 1951, that left six people dead between Missouri and California, including three children. Cook was a Joplin, MO native and dumped the bodies of five of his victims, all members of the same family, into an abandoned mine shaft near Joplin. After he was executed in San Quentin, his body was returned to Joplin, but residents didn’t want him buried in town. Eventually he was buried in Peace Cemetery, in an unmarked grave, outside the cemetery proper.

geocaching Peace Cemetery Sign e2

Dayan and I were glad it was daylight while we were there! The cemetery is old and not used any more, cared for by volunteers who occasionally mow. Dayan’s instinct stopped us in the right spot and we ventured into a little fenced off area beneath overhanging trees. We noticed right away that there were Cooks buried in this section and wondered if these were Billy’s parents and family members. If so, perhaps he is buried in there too. While Dayan swatted at cobwebs and spiders, I crept forward and discovered our cache hidden beneath a rock. Even though we had never been in this historic cemetery before, we decided not to explore further. We were both ready to move on to our next site.

geocaching Peace Cemetery Cindy closeup e

Our last stop was Sherwood Cemetery. Dayan found interesting information about Sherwood and so our history lesson continued. Union troops burned the town of Sherwood on May 19, 1863. At that time, with 250 residents, Sherwood was the third largest town in Jasper County. Nothing of the community remains except the almost forgotten cemetery. It is reported that Abraham Lincoln has a cousin buried there, Catherine Lincoln Sallinger. We found our last cache and sat on a stone bench to record our visit in the log. As we headed back to the car, Dayan found an interesting headstone. We discussed how cemeteries are really places of history. Each person had a family, a life, a story.

geocaching Sherwood Cemetery tombstone e

What a fun afternoon! We are hooked on geocaching and look forward to more afternoons spent seeking these interesting treasures. Riding in the car, we had time to chat and share our own stories and laugh. At one point, in a lull in our conversation, we both said, simultaneously, “This has been fun!” We cracked up over our in-sync speaking. This grandson of mine and I are often in sync. I appreciate him and love our time together. We laughed today that we used to make up stories called the Adventures of Dayan and Yaya. Geocaching is giving us an opportunity to live out some adventures!

geocaching Twin Groves e