Special recognition for southeast Nebraska cemetery

Published: May. 12, 2020 at 10:17 AM CDT
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The Table Rock cemetery is now recognized as a site on the National Park Service's "Underground Railroad Network to Freedom."

The Table Rock Cemetery has been a burial ground since 1857, and history comes alive when you visit. Sharla Sitzman with the Table Rock Historical Society pointed out some rare graves during our visit. One is considered a mystery. "Some say it's an Indian on his horse," Sitzman said. "Some say it was the lady killed at the mill. As the story goes, she went to see her husband and her dress caught in the millstone. Some say it was the three horse thieves who were lynched here in 1864. But those guys, it turns out are in an unmarked grave further away from this grave."

The stone slab, marked 1858, is most likely believed to be the grave of an immigrant family, who came through town after heavy rains washed away crops. "As a result of all the rotting vegetation and the dead animals and the mud, a great sickness arose," Sitzman said. Historians believe the immigrant family died, and was buried here. That story is just of many that can be uncovered and experienced at the Table Rock Cemetery. There is so much history to be found at the cemetery, but perhaps one of the highlights is the history that surrounds the Underground Railroad.

"We in Table Rock all grew up hearing the Underground Railroad came through here," Sitzman said. But the question always was what home was connected to the national network of safe houses that allowed slaves to seek freedom. Sitzman provided an answer. "It was really in the basement of the Giddings home, and the Giddings home was located where our Methodist church is now," Sitzman said. "Fannie Giddings when she was 90 years old shared lots of her memories. One of her memories was an account of four freedom seekers who had come by, and her father put them in the basement on straw beds and her mom made the meals for them." Charles Giddings, who was Fannie's father, was a Methodist minister, and considered the lead conductor in the area. There were conductors, too. "There was William Fellers who was just 24," Sitzman said. "There was Asa Heywood who was 20, there was John C. Wood who was 22."

With so many stories, the historical society wanted to make the Underground Railroad connection official. "We put together a 65 page application, fully footnoted, to prove the Underground Railroad was really here," Sitzman said. "There was a national committee meeting to consider our application in March, and we are in. We are recognized, we are now one of the sites of the National Park Service's Underground Railroad Network to Freedom."

Cemetery board members are excited about this designation. "There's a lot of history here," cemetery board member Katy Kreifel said. "If you go back and research a lot and Sharla, we appreciate her bringing a lot of this to light for us, if you research it, there's a lot of history out here and we are proud of it." And, having a connection to the fight for freedom is a good reason for displaying that sense of pride. "I think it's kind of unusual for a little town here, with fewer than 300 people to have this kind of importance," Sitzman said.