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Immigrants built 'little cathedral in the country'



St._Kilians_Cemetery
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October 22, 2013 | 03:30 PM
On a Thursday evening in October, with the sun shining and temperatures pushing into the 80s, St. Kilian’s Cemetery is not a bad place to be.

It is a green, well-kept place of rest on the very quiet Townline Road, about five miles east of Lake Geneva.

A Yahoo website rates St. Kilian’s Cemetery as number three in the list of five most haunted places in Wisconsin.

If this is the third-most haunted place in Wisconsin, all we have to fear is fear itself.

St. Kilian’s Church was founded in 1856 by Bavarian immigrants.

At the time, the closest Catholic church was in Lake Geneva, and the services were all done in English.

It was a long commute from the town of Lyons to Lake Geneva, and most of the immigrants were far more comfortable with German than English.

The Roman Catholic residents in that area decided they wanted their own church, closer to their homes and with services in German.

The parish of St. Kilian was organized with three acres donated by the Homann and Scheuermann families. The church was built on a small rise facing what is now Townline Road.

It was named after a seventh-century Irish missionary who brought Christianity to northern Bavaria.

St. Kilian’s parishioners referred to the small white church as the “little cathedral in the country.”

A cemetery was started to the west of the church, with the first graves dug in the far southwestern corner of the church property.

Records show that St. Kilian Church lasted long enough to celebrate its 75th, 100th and 125th anniversaries with special church services and observances.

But time took its toll on the little wooden church, and eventually, it could not be used as a place of worship.

The church closed its books in 1998. A few years later, the church was burned in a training exercise for local firefighters.

The site of the former church is marked with a memorial, topped with the church’s bell.

The cemetery, however, remains. And it is not abandoned.

Spaces are still open for members of families that own burial plots here.

According to persons who grew up in the area, sometime around the early 1980s, St. Kilian’s acquired a reputation for being haunted.

Walworth County has plenty of small, poorly-lit cemeteries. Why this one acquired a reputation for being haunted is hard to say.

A check around the edges of the cemetery turned up several beer cans and a condom wrapper, indicating that most of the bumping in the night is probably due to the living.

In the center of the cemetery is an enormous crucifix, a near-life-sized plaster-white Jesus hanging on a steel cross.

In the raw, orange light of the street light, that vision can be a bit disconcerting. But after a while, it becomes comforting. Who better to watch over this cemetery than the Son of Man? Any devil cultist trying to raise a foul spirit here may well be struck by lightning from a clear sky.

Although houses are nearby, their lights are blocked by a rise in the land. Even with a street light illuminating the entrance to the burial ground, the night sky grows dark enough that the faint glow of the Milky Way is visible. A slight, early fall wind keeps leaves rustling and moving about.

Perhaps being here alone at night might fire the imagination, causing some trepidation. Fear of the dark is the most primitive of human apprehensions.

But having others around for conversation puts fear at bay. St. Kilian’s gravestones rest quietly under the cloak of night.

The most recent burial is under a wooden cross, marking the spot where a stone memorial will be set.

An epitaph was left on a laminated piece of paper: “Great Irish Catholic husband and dad. Blessed to have a living family and friends. Proud World War II vet.” The date of death is Aug. 26, 2013.

Little offerings of love and gentle grief surround and surmount the more recent headstones.

A pewter angel, perhaps a Christmas tree ornament, bears the inscription: “A mom is a special blessing.”

Gardening tools are stacked behind the marker of a World War II staff sergeant. On the marker stand is a small garden gnome. Leaning on the front of the stone is marker that reads: “If love could have saved you, you would have lived forever.”

Stones are left on the top of some monuments, marking of the weight of lingering grief.

That’s not to say there are no haunted memories here.

A friend who grew up in the area told of a man and woman who had been close but who then fell out and had a nasty argument after breaking up. They got into separate cars. She never made it home, dying in a car wreck. She is buried here. The man blamed himself for her death for years afterward.

A nightmare of human anger and regret, no doubt. But nothing supernatural.

A walk through the graveyard in the dying light of day reveals that the more recent burials are closer to the former location of the church, while the older graves are in a hollow at the southwest end of the property.

The oldest have dates of 1856 and 1859. They bear Old World names like Andreas and Johann.

Some of the oldest names and dates are eroded away, some are broken by weather and age. A few showed signs of vandalism. Two of the saddest graves are marked Jan. 24, 1951-May 16, 1951 and April 14, 1959-April 15, 1959.

A clue to St. Kilian’s roots is on a broken marker. Across the top is inscribed the word “Mutter” or “Mother.” The young women laid to rest here was “Geboren” (born) 12 Dezember, 1860(?) and “Gesterben” (died) 26 September, 1890(?). The exact dates are eroded by time.

On Oct. 17, “Underground Lake Geneva,” a feature of ReelLifeTV.net, a part of the Lake Geneva Regional News and Resorter, invited Wisconsin Paranormal Investigators to test the claims that St. Kilian’s Cemetery is haunted.

They found nothing.

(Information from “The History of Walworth County,” 1912, by Albert Clayton Beckwith and the websites beethoven23.tripod.com and rayson.us/Genealogy/St_Kilian.html.)

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