Tuesday, September 1

Tombstone Tuesday: Forgotten Lads

Boys Reform School Cemetery - Topeka KS

I've been putting this one off for months, until a "better" time. Unfortunately, there is no "good" time for this story, because it's about a long-forgotten cemetery for boys who were themselves forgotten, or deemed "incorrigible", and sent away to the State Reform School for Boys in Topeka, Kansas.

Some had committed real crimes like burglary or battery, but the only "crime" of others was having the misfortune to be unloved and unwanted. Some died of epidemics common at the time, some died from accidents, and since abuse was the norm in the early days, some undoubtedly died from excessive punishment.

The institution has had many names since it opened in 1881. When I was growing up it was called the Boys Industrial School, then it became "Youth Center at Topeka" (YCAT), which was changed again to Topeka Juvenile Correctional Facility (TJCF).

According to a 2001 article in the Topeka Capital-Journal by Morgan Chilson, only twelve boys are buried here, most likely because only twelve are listed on the monument erected by a group of YCAT inmates and staff in 1987.

Monument to the "Forgotten Boys". In the distance,
TJCF with its high fences topped by razor wire.

At some point, white wooden crosses were placed behind each extant grave marker. When I took these photos in March 2009, I counted twenty crosses, not twelve. Sixteen can be seen in the photo below. The other four are out of frame to the left.

Rochester Cemetery just up the road used to have a key to the gate, but had to surrender it to officials of TJCF, who had inexplicably become concerned for the privacy of the boys buried here. (I'll be nice and refrain from commenting on that one...)

Being an adventurous soul, I could've climbed over the fence but chose not to, so the next photo was taken over the fence at the west end. (Previous photos were also taken by leaning over the fence...way over.)

Enlarged and cropped section of previous photo.
Click to see full-size and all twenty crosses.
(One is nearly hidden behind another, but it's there.)

Even leaning over the gate with my camera on "zoom", I couldn't get a close-up of the monument in the center. Instead, here are the names of the boys listed, from the booklet about the cemetery at the Kansas State Historical Society. (There is no copyright on the booklet, btw, as it was printed at the State printing facility.)

- Asa Everett, 14, died 15 Oct 1884; unnamed epidemic. Oldest tombstone.

- Clarence Elsworth Buchanan, 17, died 4th Sep 1885; malaria.

- Perry F.D. Smith, age unknown, died 5th Sept 1885; heart failure.

- Rollin Richardson, age unknown, died 28 Nov 1887; cause unknown.

- Karl Kitsmiller, 12, died 10 Sep 1888; cause unknown.

- Edward Augustus Charles, 16, died in November 1888; cause unknown.

- James Henry Curtis, 16, died 17 June 1889; cause unknown.

- Edward Lane, 17, died 25 May 1890; cause unknown. Both parents were deceased; he had been in the school since age 11.

- Jefferson Dorcas, age unknown, died 4th Apr 1892; cause unknown.

- Andrew Rutledge, age unknown, died Nov. 10, 1917. He had been paroled in 1915, but returned in 1916. He escaped the facility and was injured in the Union Pacific yards in Junction City. He died several hours later.

- Orlan Pogue, 17, died 28 Aug 1927; epileptic seizure.

- Donald Thompson, 13, died in September 1938 of internal hemorrhages in hospital after he "fell under a wheel" [???].

All of the boys either had no next-of-kin or their relatives would not claim the body.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Tombstone Tuesday is sponsored by GeneaBloggers


Linda Q said...

Thanks for dropping in my blog.
Your encouraging comments on my head board project and mentioning my blog on your blog lately!
I hope I can get some time this week to work on the paint part of the head board. Slow but sure!
Interesting post about the boys.
I am working on alot of family history right now too, so I understand the history of it all.
I have found many family headstones from folks that have photographed the cemeteries etc.
Have a great day!

Nora Johnson said...

What a sad story above! btw Just read that Highgate cemetery, London is increasing its entry fee for the Western Cemetery (resting place of John Galsworthy etc) but not for the Eastern one (home of Karl Marx!) Political or not?

Have a great day,


Elise said...

Hello, what a beautiful blog you have here ! I just had to leave a note for you - I've really enjoyed looking through your posts and pictures. They are all very interesting and creative. Best wishes and thank you...

wesley carl sammons said...

I was in B.I.S. for 2 years in the 70's

JamaGenie said...

Wesley, not many will admit to being at B.I.S. at any time! Thank you for stopping by and commenting. That said I went to your Google+ page and saw you were looking for information on your grandfather, Frank SAMMONS. I couldn't find him, but I did find the Find A Grave page for his wife, Lethe Elizabeth (nee McFadden) Sammons, who's buried at Englewood Cemetery, Clinton, Missouri. Possible Frank is buried with her. If you already know this, my apologies. If not, please contact me at JamaGenie@gmail.com.

Hane a great day!