April Fools? Not Us!

Elephant Tombstone

While we love the fun of April Fool’s Day, we have found in our years of work that we have no need, or desire, to fool people. The real facts relating to genealogy and local history are full of surprises. Why alter anything – even for one day? In fact, we love the challenge of investigating and solving riddles of the past.

A fine example of this involves Davenport City Cemetery, which opened in 1843. From misinformation about the founding of the cemetery to the urban legend of an elephant’s final resting spot, the truth is far more interesting than any April Fool’s Day joke we could think up.

Two of our intrepid researchers have done extensive research on the City Cemetery and have brought to light actual facts that begin to dispel myths of City Cemetery that have existed for generations. Following are five of these discoveries:

Myth #1 – Ebenezer Cook donated City Cemetery to the City of Davenport in 1836.

Fact #1 – The City Council Minute Book, Vol. 1 (1838 – 1850) states five acres of land was purchased from Asa & Electa Green for $25.00 an acre in 1843. These five acres would encompass what would become known as the old City Cemetery. Burial plots were sold the same year. In 1849 another 6.48 acres of land was purchased from Asa Green’s descendent Theodore Green. In January 1863 the first lot is sold in the new section of City Cemetery.


Myth #2 – Davenport City Cemetery encompassed 25 acres of land.

Fact #2 – We have found through the handwritten original City Council Minute Book, Vol. 1 and the Scott County Deed Book C the acreage sold by Asa & Electa Green and Theodore Green total 11.48 acres. This data was confirmed by using data from GSI (geographic information system).

So, no, there aren’t any stray tombstones in your backyard—at least, not from the city cemetery . . . .Busted!

Myth #3 – Burial records at Davenport City Cemetery begin in 1863.

Fact #3 – We are fortunate to have City Sexton Frederick Kann’s personal burial log book starting from his hiring in 1863 through 1881. These records have proven incredibly important as the original records were destroyed when the City Cemetery Office burnt down in 1881. But these are no longer the earliest records. Staff is very excited to report that handwritten monthly and annual Sexton reports were provided to City Council. Many of these records have recently been found in city papers. Unfortunately, not every year is complete. We currently have found reports from 1857 – 1900 and are still in the process of going through council papers for more information.

Happily, for you genealogists—Busted!

Myth #4 – At least 200 Civil War soldiers are buried in City Cemetery from the nearby training camps.

Fact #4 – We are still in the process of trying to uncover more about this mystery. Neither the monthly reports to City Council nor Frederick Kann’s ledger account for burials of this nature, but Staff has not given up and are still looking for more information relating to this fascinating rumor.

Stay Tuned . . .

Yeah, yeah—so what about the elephant?

Myth #5 – An Elephant is buried under that big mound in City Cemetery. And if it isn’t an elephant, it’s a mass grave from a cholera epidemic.

Fact #5 – In the northwestern corner of City Cemetery, in the new section, there is a mound of dirt that has raised questions and rumors for years. The weirdest one, so far, claims that an elephant from a traveling circus died in Davenport and was buried in the mound. In some versions, the elephant went berserk, killed two clowns, and was put down before being buried in the mound.

Others believe a less sensational tale, that the mound covers cholera victims from an 1873 epidemic. Both the monthly reports to City Council and the Sexton Kann’s personal log do show that there was an epidemic in 1873. Local newspapers also tell of the victims that perished. However, our research can find only 31 people buried at City Cemetery who died of cholera. Others victims of this epidemic were buried in other Davenport cemeteries. All cholera victims buried in City Cemetery were buried in the Public Ground located in the eastern section of the “old” cemetery—not the mound area.

The original lot map for the new section of City Cemetery does show some plots near the mound. We know Lot 128, which is closest to the mound, was purchased and used by Mr. H. Oldendorf; both he and his wife are buried there.

The clincher? The State of Iowa recognizes the mound as potentially being part of a Native American Burial Mound. We find this much more interesting than a dead elephant, but maybe that’s just us . . .


Do you know of another myth , mystery, or urban legend relating to City Cemetery or anywhere else in Davenport?
We would love to hear them, bust (or prove) them, and post them!
Our staff loves a challenge!

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