BENTON HARBOR — Michael and Cassandra Dudley have lived in Benton Harbor for over three years and they didn’t realize the rich history of their city and, in particular, the street on which they live.
“I’m a huge history and cemetery buff,” Cassandra Dudley said. “I walk around this cemetery but I never knew all this about the people buried here.”
The Dudleys, along with their 5-year-old son, Elijah, were among dozens of visitors to Crystal Springs Cemetery Saturday who took a walk through history, visiting the gravesites of people who played large parts in the making of Benton Harbor.
“We live on Pipestone, and I never new the history of some of the houses there,” Michael Dudley said. The family moved to Benton Harbor a few years ago from Arkansas.
They listened to a fascinating story told by Denise Tackett about Elizabeth Eaglesfield and Dora Whitney, two influential female lawyers. Whitney was the first female lawyer in Berrien County, established the county’s first juvenile detention center and worked until age 86.
Eaglesfield was one of the first women to graduate from the University of Michigan law school and, along with her son, owned a shipping company in Benton Harbor where she also served as a boat captain.
Tackett, treasurer of the board of the Morton House Museum, organized the tour of the historic cemetery, with proceeds going to support the museum. Volunteers were on hand at 12 gravesites throughout the cemetery to tell the stories of the people buried there.
Denise Reeves, museum board president, stood by at the Klock mausoleum and told the story of the philanthropic couple, John and Carrie Klock, who bought 90 acres of lakefront property for $20,000 and gave it to the city of Benton Harbor to create Jean Klock Park in memory of their daughter Jean, who died at a young age.
“My great-grandpa lived near them on Pipestone and we used to trick-or-treat at their house,” Clare Rutlin recalled. “We’d get cider and doughnuts, and they also had a tray of nickels for all the children.”
Rutlin toured the cemetery with her husband, David, a retired funeral director.
“I’ve certainly been here many, many times, but I never knew all these stories,” he said.
Local historian Chriss Lyon dressed in 1920s garb to tell the story of Charles (Skalay) Skelly, a St. Joseph police officer who was shot and killed in 1929 by one of Al Capone’s henchmen, Fred “Killer” Burke.
Other prominent residents who were remembered at their gravesites included:
• W.P. Robbins, a successful lumber baron and resident of the Pipestone Avenue neighborhood.
• Lyman Ward, a relatively unknown Civil War general who came to Benton Harbor to be a farmer.
• Saunders LeRoy VanCamp, a union solder of the 145th regiment who was wounded at Gettysburg.
• Edward Brammall, a prominent business man who had a plumbing supply business in the fledgling city of Benton Harbor. Brammall Supply, founded in 1873, is still a thriving business.
• V.M. Gore, an attorney who helped rewrite the constitution for the state of Michigan in 1910.
• Nellie Hobbs Smyth, a president of the Federation of Women’s Clubs, the forerunner to the Morton House Museum organization.
• Charles Slosson, a young man who, just back from serving in WWII, was shot and killed while protecting his father during a robbery at their store. The thief made off with $5.
• Elisha Gray II, one of Whirlpool Corp.’s most successful presidents.
• Tunis Ponsen, a famous Chicago artist.
• William Sheffield, who owned a drug store and was a director of the American National Bank in Benton Harbor. He also lived in the Pipestone Avenue neighborhood. He built the family mausoleum at Crystal Springs Cemetery for his parents, who had made it clear they did not want to be put in the ground.
• Frances Thorpe, a leader in Mary’s City of David.
Contact: jswidwa@TheHP.com, 932-0359, Twitter: @HPSwidwa