An emotional story passed down among families of the Swiss Volhynian Mennonites of Kansas will be memorialized in stone at a 3 p.m. dedication service Sept. 23. at Catlin Cemetery, north of Peabody.
In 1874, Swiss Mennonite immigrants stepped off the train at Peabody. The men went to scout and buy land in Mound and Turkey Creek townships, but when they returned three weeks later, they discovered almost all the children became sick. Some children died. As the town had no cemetery, the women and one elderly man carried the bodies 3 miles north of town, dug the graves, and buried the children there without coffins or funerals. Until recently, the exact location of these burials has been a mystery.
It was not until 138 years later that the site was identified, largely through efforts of Brian Stucky of Goessel, a relative of an immigrant child buried there and Task Force chairman; LaVern Stucky, president of the Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association; and Don Stutzman, Catlin cemetery sexton.
The Catlin cemetery was not originally a cemetery, but began as farmer and landowner Henry Hornberger buried his 15-year-old daughter in the northwest corner of their farm. This parcel was later sold to the Catlin Church Society and a church building was built. The congregation disbanded in 1962. The church was torn down, but the cemetery remains.
After identifying the place as the resting point for the Mennonite immigrant children, a task force of the Swiss Mennonite Cultural and Historical Association researched names, designed and arranged for a memorial stone to be placed in the Catlin cemetery.
A variety of speakers and historians will tell of the history and people, and a cemetery tour will follow as part of the Sept. 23 dedication ceremony.