|Prairie City Cemetery, McDonough County, Illinois|
On my most recent research trip to Illinois, I eagerly looked forward to visiting the Prairie City Cemetery where my great-grandmother, the elusive Mattie Laughry Hays, lies buried. On my previous visit two years earlier, I hadn't had the time to stop there. Also, I didn't have enough information about the exact location of Mattie's grave, and I didn't know what other family members could be found in that cemetery. This time I knew exactly where to go and what other gravestones to look for. The handy website findagrave.com had most helpfully delivered the information that Mattie's mother, Nancy Baird Laughry, was buried right next to her daughter. From family papers I had recently uncovered, I knew the married names of Mattie's two sisters as well as the approximate location of their graves. Mattie's older brother William rested in an unspecified plot in the cemetery.
As prepared as I was for grave hunting, I had not anticipated how difficult it would be to find the cemetery itself. I figured that in the tiny town of Prairie City, I could just drive around until I came upon the cemetery or until I found someone to tell me where it was. But Prairie City was a ghost town. Just ranch house after ranch house with a few trailers here and there. I didn't see a single soul. Eventually, I resorted to knocking on somebody's door. I picked a house with a car parked in the driveway. A friendly woman came to the door, gave me good directions, and I was on my way.
The town of Prairie City may have been abandoned, but the cemetery itself looked well-maintained, recently groomed. Imagine that—a place where the graveyard is more vibrant than its town!
I had the place to myself. It was a gorgeous blue-sky day and I walked the rows of gravestones with a sense of peaceful anticipation. With my cemetery map, I found my way to Lot 22 and there were my great-grandmother and her mother Nancy—right where findagrave had told me they would be!
|"Mattie N. Laughry - Oct. 30, 1840-May 12, 1881"|
|"Nancy- Wife of Benj Laughry - Died March 1, 1861 - Aged 50y 6m 18d"|
Again with the aid of my map, I located the Laughry sisters nearby. They were buried with their respective husbands, children, and stepchildren. I never did find William Baird Laughry, though. Other soldiers who had died in the Civil War had those military medallions supported by little stakes which were stuck in the ground beside the gravestones. I sought out every such medallioned stake but never found his. Later, at the local historical society, I learned the reason. William was indeed buried there in the Prairie City Cemetery, but he lay in an unmarked grave. Why? Why did he not merit such a stake or memorial stone?
Back to my great-grandmother. Mattie had been put to rest there in Prairie City, but that was not where she had died. Just a few years before her death, she and her husband Charles had left Illinois with their three children and moved to Blanchard, Iowa. Blanchard, a new town that her husband had helped to incorporate, was in the proverbial middle of nowhere, sitting practically on the line that divided Iowa from Missouri. She must have missed her home and her sisters. Why did she die at the age of forty-one so far from home? Did she die of loneliness? Had she always been sickly? Did she die in childbirth?
I doubt very much that she would have chosen to die in Blanchard. Just as I doubt that her brother William would have chosen to die of typhoid fever in a military camp in Little Rock, Arkansas. I know so little of these Laughrys and their siblings. In fact, I know more about their deaths and their burials than I do about their lives and how they lived them.