Once Upon a Time

Officer's beat was silent but colorful: A cemetery

The Adam Thron family lived in the Woodland Cemetery gatehouse on South Fifth Street. | Photo courtesy of the author
By BETH LANE
Posted: Sep. 13, 2020 12:40 am Updated: Sep. 13, 2020 12:47 am

Quincy once had a job titled policeman for its city of the dead, Woodland Cemetery.

It sounds as if it should have been an uneventful position, having little or no trouble from its constituents.

For Adam Thron, however, things were sometimes far from peaceful. Job requirements listed were a "sober, intelligent, industrious, even tempered man, one not afraid of occasional manual labor and at times a good deal of it..." according to the Quincy Daily Journal of April 26, 1893.

Thron fit the bill. He was born in Illinois of German parents, raised on a farm in Cass County until moving to Quincy. He received the appointment to Woodland in June 1893 and moved his family into the cemetery gatehouse on South Fifth Street.

In August he got a hard initiation into the realities of the position. In an ugly incident of mob violence in Kingston, a man had been killed and later buried in Woodland. Unfortunately, the inquest had been rushed, and the fatal bullet had been buried with the body. The state's attorney considered it necessary to open the grave after three months to retrieve the only piece of evidence that would prove the caliber of the gun that fired the fatal shot. It was as bad as you imagine.

It was also August of that year when two of Thron's mischievous children, Albert, age 9, and Arthur, 7, climbed into florist Gentemann's buggy and rode with him to deliver flowers to a grave. While they waited in the buggy, the horse bolted, galloping around the cemetery until it faced two gravestones laying on the ground. The horse soared over the obstacle, but the buggy flipped, throwing Arthur free and pinning Albert underneath, dragging him until a woodpile halted the horse. Both boys were treated by Dr. Knapheide and were severely injured but did recover.

It was also that August when the murderer Jamison was hanged in the basement of the courthouse and buried in Woodland. His case had created quite a sensation in Quincy, with hundreds viewing the gallows and the body, which was put on display afterward. The sheriff held the burial ceremony an hour earlier than advertised to thwart the crowd. Thron had to keep a careful eye on this grave to stop body snatchers and souvenir hunters.

In November of that same year a mystery came to light. In the Odd Fellows lot at Woodland, there was a body buried in an unmarked grave, and the Odd Fellows records held no mention of its occupant. The club had agreed to have Thron dig down to the coffin, hoping there would be something that could help them identify the occupant. This was done revealing that the top of the wooden coffin had rotted away. At first glance the corpse appeared in perfect preservation, but the air turned the black suit coat and occupant to dust as the men watched.

There were two emblems that identified the man, one as a member of the Knights of Pythias and the other being the clasped hands of the Odd Fellows. It was thus noted that he did belong there, whoever he was.

Unfortunately, the most notable thing about the occasion was that the coffin had been used as a "granary by the cemetery squirrels." They had burrowed from the surface to the side of the coffin, chewed their way in and when the coffin was moved, "A full quart of the nuts rolled from the brain pan and rattled to the bottom of the coffin," according to The Quincy Daily Herald. "It made the men shudder." The man was reburied, this time with a tombstone marked, "Unknown."

1893 may have been the most eventful year of Thron's tenure. Much like today, quiet, semiprivate places are in demand for meetings between lovers. It was one of the ongoing problems for Thron to deal with as men and women, not necessarily married to each other, attempted to use the cemetery as a place for dalliance. The two would try to evade the policeman and often try to bribe him to overlook the infraction.

In 1895, The Quincy Daily Journal reports Thron on the stand as saying, "There wasn't money enough in Quincy to get me to let them go. I'm going to run that place as it ought to be run."

In this case, when the details unraveled, it was found that the woman was not the man's wife, but rather his bookkeeper. The man paid both his fine and the woman's. It did not help that the man dallying with his bookkeeper was a prominent local merchant.

Thron, as caretaker, was severely chastised by The Quincy Daily Herald for not doing his duty in an appropriate manner. The paper condemned him for following and watching the couple until they were in a compromising position. Previously, the paper had criticized him for rushing cases into the police court, which it said should not be prosecuted. Thron defended himself in the same newspaper on Sept. 10, 1895, saying, "The only thing that I can do is to wait until the wrongful act is committed and then make the arrest. I cannot act on suspicion. And this is true whether it is a case of assignation or of flower-stealing."

And flower stealing was a problem. But it was not less onerous to prosecute. In October 1895, The Daily Herald reported that a Mrs. Bunte was in court charged with removing rose bushes from a grave. She denied it vociferously, charging that Thron had made indecent proposals to her four times. When she refused to comply, he pulled up the rose bushes, arrested her and marched her to the police station. She was sentenced to pay a $5 fine plus $2.10 in costs. She had six children, and the paper noted that, "In her younger days, it is said, she was quite prepossessing in appearance." Thron remained at his post until 1911.

 

Beth Lane is the author of "Lies Told Under Oath," the story of the 1912 Pfanschmidt murders near Payson, Ill. She is the former executive director of the Historical Society of Quincy and Adams County.

 

Sources:

"Accommodating Policeman," Quincy Daily Journal, July 7, 1893.

 

"Aftermath of the Execution," Aug. 19, 1893.

 

"Annual Meeting Made Later," Quincy Daily Journal, April 26, 1893.

 

"The Appropriations." Quincy Daily Herald, May 6, 1893.

 

"Found Dead on her Babe's Grave," Quincy Daily Whig, Jan. 28, 1900.

 

"Gravedigging the last word in jobs," Quincy Daily Whig, Nov. 21, 1982.

 

"A head full of Acorns," Quincy Daily Herald, Nov. 22, 1893.

 

"Hot Fight in the Cemetery," Quincy Daily Whig, May 26, 1901.

 

"Is She His Wife," Quincy Daily Journal, Sept. 4, 1895.

 

"Mr. Thron is Called," Quincy Daily Herald, Sept. 28, 1911.

 

"Officer Thron's Duty," Quincy Daily Herald, Sept. 7, 1895.

 

"People in Trouble," Quincy Daily Whig, Sept. 5, 1895.

 

"Referred to the Council," Quincy Daily Journal, May 11, 1896.

 

"Station News and Notes," Quincy Daily Herald, Oct. 25, 1895.

 

"Their Silver Wedding Day," Quincy Daily Journal, April 17, 1909.

 

"Thron Defends Thron," Quincy Daily Herald, Sept. 10, 1895.

 

"Two Boys have a Wild Ride," Quincy Daily Journal, Aug. 30, 1893.

 

"Very Grave Suspicions," Quincy Daily Journal, Aug. 8, 1893.

 

"Vicious Hands of Vandals," Quincy Daily Whig, Aug. 11, 1898.

 

"We're Hunting Young Rabbits," Quincy Daily Journal, Jan. 15, 1905.