BY KEVIN LILLY
Pharos-Tribune business writer
Long-forgotten ancestors and Civil and Revolutionary War veterans lie buried under tall brush and broken headstones. John McManus recently started a business that pieces the past’s puzzle together, one headstone at a time.
He calls it Pipe Creek Cemetery Services and works to restore luster to the numerous area pioneer cemeteries that were once well-kept but have since gone by the wayside.
As McManus puts it, he is “restoring dignity and respect to our forefathers.”
There are numerous sacred resting places throughout Cass County that are forgotten by all but a few. The people in many of these grave sites were alive when Native Americans still roamed the lands of the Wabash Valley and when Logansport got its first tavern and hotel and when all 468 miles of the Erie Canal were in use, and railroads were booming.
They now rest in cemetery hillsides adorned with hand-carved monuments, many broken and worn.
McManus, who is retired from more than 20 years of civil service at Grissom Air Reserve Base, had his interest sparked when he was asked to mow the grass of two cemeteries. When he arrived at the first site, he realized they needed more than mowing.
Headstones were broken and oftentimes several feet from the graves they marked. Some even had to be unearthed, after years of erosion engulfed them.
“The more I mowed, the more I discovered that had been hidden,” McManus said.
Since his first project, McManus has steadily gotten better and now knows exactly what tools are necessary.
Working in remote places, where most pioneer cemeteries are located, “is a problem,” McManus said.
His mower is a 32-horsepower Grasshopper that has six wheels and, according to McManus, traverses the steep entrance hill at Pipe Creek Cemetery with no problem.
His equipment consists of a portable generator, an electric cement mixer, 55-gallon drums of water, 2 by 4 boards for forms, and the recently acquired Kawasaki Mule that also can handle the lofty hillsides so many cemeteries are atop of.
Last summer McManus took the job on full time. He works at whatever pace the cemetery sexton wants. McManus will repair one monument or the entire cemetery. To accommodate budgets, the work can be done in several phases, which actually is an advantage for McManus.
“I’m retired. I should be fishing or playing golf.”
He says he does the work more for a sense of accomplishment rather than a monetary reward.
The work is the reward. “That is the biggest part of it,” McManus said. “I just like to see them fixed.”
South Union Cemetery, west of Kokomo and south of Ind. 22, was a job that when he finished he could really appreciate because of how much improvement was shown from the work.
One particular line of monuments looked like a line of jagged teeth. When he left, they were in line as if straightened with braces.
Bringing back rooted tradition, business is agreed upon with a handshake “like the old days,” McManus said. The method must be effective.
“This year has been our busiest year,” McManus said. He and his two sons toiled for some 200 hours in six cemeteries in three counties: Cass, Howard and Miami.
He writes: “You can drive down any busy road, or see them on a hill off in the distance. Some are hidden within a woods or sit along a creek, while others are overgrown with brush and weeds and barely visible. The one thing they all have in common is that they need attention. They need repair and they need cared for. What they are is Indiana pioneer cemeteries.”
He plans to hire a college student for the upcoming summer.
Pipe Creek Cemetery Service
Phone: (574) 721-5106
Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Kevin Lilly can be reached at 722-5000, Ext. 5117, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
BY KEVIN LILLY