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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • Volunteers working to return stolen tombstone

  • A spring cleaning project at a Leavenworth residence recently turned up the unexpected.
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  • A spring cleaning project at a Leavenworth residence recently turned up the unexpected.
    Two weeks ago, a couple were removing stones from an old fountain in their backyard of their home on Allen Street. Among the rubble, they found what appeared to be an old tombstone.
    "They were wondering whether there was a body," said Jeff Culbertson, Leavenworth County Geographic Information Systems Department director.
    Culbertson has been involved in an effort that created an online Leavenworth County cemetery database.
    It turned out there was no body in the backyard. And, the cemetery database revealed the headstone had been stolen from a grave from Greenwood Cemetery.
    The abandoned cemetery is located in the area of Limit and 15th streets.
    "We don't know how long it's been missing," Culbertson said of the tombstone.
    He speculated teenagers stole the tombstone and ended up hiding it in the location where it was unearthed April 6.
    The headstone had marked the gravesite of two people: Magdelena Schwimm, who was born Jan. 28, 1849 and died Dec. 13, 1900, and Adam Schwimm, who was born Jan. 18, 1878 and died Sept. 21, 1901. The grave marker indicates both were born in Germany.
    Given the dates of when they were born, Magdelena and Adam Schwimm could have been mother and son, Culbertson said.
    The last time the headstone is known to have been seen at Greenwood Cemetery was 1979, when indexes of Leavenworth County cemeteries were compiled, Jim Claunch said.
    Claunch has served as the lead research historian for the more recent online database project.
    The tombstone appears to have been broken from its base. Culbertson said it's possible the marker could be reattached to its base, if the base can be found.
    Culbertson and Claunch have visited Greenwood Cemetery to locate the base for the tombstone.
    "It should be just like a puzzle piece," Culbertson said of matching the tombstone with its base.
    So far, they have been unsuccessful.
    "We're going to keep looking," Culbertson said.
    Based on the burial dates, the likely location of the graves has been narrowed to a quarter section of the cemetery, Culbertson said.
    Greenwood Cemetery is more than 150 years old and believed to be one of the oldest cemeteries in Kansas, Claunch said.
    A sign at an entrance to the cemetery indicates that it was established in 1863. But, there are graves in the cemetery dating to the 1850s.
    Culbertson said Greenwood Cemetery is the most vandalized cemetery of the 176 in Leavenworth County.
    "It's vandalized almost monthly," he said.
    Claunch said theft of cemetery headstones is not as uncommon as some might think. He said such thefts often go unreported or undiscovered.
    Page 2 of 2 - He said it's rare for a stolen tombstone to be found and returned to a cemetery.
    Claunch said the couple who found the Schwimm tombstone initially contacted the Leavenworth Police Department, who referred them to the Leavenworth County Historical Society. The Historical Society used the online database to determine the headstone was from Greenwood Cemetery.
    Claunch said he was contacted to help figure out what to do with the stolen tombstone.
    Culbertson credits Claunch with starting the project that has resulted in the online cemetery database. The project began around 10 years ago when Claunch asked Culbertson if he had a map of the cemeteries in the county.
    Culbertson said a volunteer group of about eight people was formed. The group surveyed cemeteries.
    Before the creation of the database, researching burials in Leavenworth County was difficult and time consuming, Claunch said.
    "It required driving to the Leavenworth Public Library, and searching through a large number of incomplete and out-of-date indexes," he said. "This could take several evenings of work, and when done, the researcher could not be entirely certain of the results."
    The online cemetery database can be accessed by visiting the GIS Department page of the Leavenworth County website, www.leavenworthcounty.org.
    Culbertson said the work of the volunteer group probably is not yet complete. He urges anyone with information about Leavenworth County cemeteries to call him at (913) 684-0443.
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