The Mount Hope Cemetery board is taking steps to protect an aging beauty and historic icon of Hiawatha that is listed on the National Registry of Historic Places.
It’s been more than 20 years since the last revitalization on the Davis Memorial, which was built in the 1930s as a memorial to Sarah Davis, by her husband, John. Most of the life-size statues were commissioned, crafted in Italy and positioned at the memorial between 1931 and 1934, following the 1930 death of Sarah Davis. All but one of the stone figures is carved from Italian marble, which was deemed most suitable for a woman’s delicate facial features. A total of 11 statues surround the graves in the center. The actual cost to build the memorial is not known but estimated at around $200,000. As legend tells it, Davis — a wealthy landowner who had come to Brown County as in an orphan in 1879 — had no heirs of his own and was not about to leave his money to his deceased wife’s family. To he began the monument to her memory. John Davis put all of his money into the granite and marble tribute to his wife and died virtually penniless at the county nursing home in 1947.
Over the years, time and weather has taken its toll on the Davis Memorial, which has been featured in Newsweek, Life and People magazines and on a TV version of “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not.” Bob Sines, presidents of the Mount Hope Cemetery board, said they have decided to take some steps to preserve the historic icon that brings in many visitors to the Hiawatha community. Last week, they scheduled a visit with Sarah B. Hunter, review and compliance coordinator with the Kansas Historical Society to visit the memorial and provide a summary on what she thought the board needed to address in the way of repairs and revitalizing the memorial.
“The cemetery board felt it was time to look at the Davis Memorial again,” he said. “It is so iconic in this area and is very important to the community.”
Sines said the board wanted professional advice on what they needed to do to to preserve the Davis Memorial. The last thorough inspection and project was from 1993-95 when work was completed to repair the wall around the memorial. The Hiawatha Cemetery Association had received a $25,000 grant from the Kansas Historical Society, part of which was sunk into the wall project, which included a new foundation. The wall consists of 14 pieces on each of the four sides, with the heaviest weighing about 3,500 pounds. The wall’s main frame is built of Barre granite with white and pink marble inserts. The cemetery board commissioned Doyal Schroeder, a monument dealer and funeral home operator from Horton at the time, and his crew to do the work. Other work completed during that time included some restoration and cleaning of the statues.
Hunter pointed out some places where restoration and cleaning needed to take place. Gesturing to some areas around one statue of Sarah Davis, Hunter pointed out damage from acid rain. She said there were some areas of erosion on the Davis Memorial, along with biological growth on the statues and other areas of the memorial. She also discovered areas of red and black staining.
“The granite is in pretty good shape,” Hunter said, then pointed to an urn and areas underneath that were slightly discolored. “Water will find it’s way in there.”
Hunter will turn in her summary after analyzing notes and photographs from her visit. This will then be reviewed to determine whether a formal restoration assessment will be needed from her office.
Sines said the cemetery is privately owned and operates primarily on donations and memorials. He said that once the cemetery board decided on a course of action for restoration of the Davis Memorial after Hunter’s summary and the final recommendations were made, he said that fundraising efforts for a restoration project would probably take place at that time.