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Past takes center stage at cemetery walk



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A look into the past. Reenactors in period dress line up before spreading out their assigned graves at Union Cemetery, Springfield, during this year's cemetery walk on Saturday sponsored by the Walworth County Genealogical Society.

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July 24, 2012 | 03:04 PM
LYONS TOWNSHIP — Like shades from the past, the eight figures, in period clothing, walked to their assigned grave sites and then waited for visitors to Union Cemetery to stop by and ask about the lives of those buried there.

No, the dead did not actually return to visit the living.

But for four hours Saturday, about 50 people interested in their family histories and just history in general visited Union Cemetery, Springfield, to hear reenactors and speakers relate the life stories of some of the more interesting people now resting there.

Deb Ketchum, president of the Walworth County Genealogical Society, said the society sponsors one cemetery walk a year.

Earlier walks were at Pioneer Cemetery in Lake Geneva and the Brick Church Cemetery in Walworth, Ketchum said.

Ketchum said it takes about a year to arrange the walk with the cemetery board, collect pertinent information about people buried there, and to arrange for re-enactors.

This year's walk was geared toward the Civil War and veterans in general, Ketchum said. Before the walk began, cemetery guide Michael Hay read the Gettysburg address and Dakota Sammons, a Big Foot High School sophomore, played "Taps."

Michael Ferenz and Chris Brookes are experienced reenactors, who take on personas from the past as part of their continued interest in history.

Mary Summers and Karen and Tim Schinke participated because they have relatives who are buried at Union Cemetery.

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Ferenz is a Civil War reenactor from Milwaukee. He portrayed Henry Olp, Company K, 8th Wisconsin Regiment. Olp was one of the many thousands of unrecognized heroes of the war, fighting in 24 different engagements with a regiment that was considered an elite unit of the Union side. Olp survived the war and died in 1887.

The Olps helped establish Springfield in the middle and late 1800s. The extended Olp family, including Henry, are buried around the monument to Jacob Olp, the family patriarch.

Ferenz said he was impressed when he learned that at least 17 Civil War veterans are buried at Union Cemetery.

Brookes of Lake Geneva portrayed Maggie Webster, who was born Maggie Olp. She married Pliny David Webster. Maggie outlived her husband by 43 years.

The couple was childless, but Maggie's molasses cookies made her famous to the children of Springfield, who knew her as "Aunt Maggie."

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Mary Summers of Lake Bluff, Ill., found one of her ancestors, Charles G. Harms, buried in the Union Cemetery. Dressed in Civil War era garb, Summers gave visitors a history of her great-grandfather's life.

Summers said that when she was a little girl, her grandmother told her of her great-grandfather who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

Summers said she didn't have many details beyond that. She said she knew that her family did come from Walworth County, and when she got older, and finally had time, she began her search for great-grandfather Charles.

Harms was born in Germany in 1843 and immigrated to America in 1851 with his mother and stepfather.

He enlisted in Company D, 10th Wisconsin Regiment, at 18. He lost a finger on his left hand at the battle of Prairie Grove, but completed his three-year enlistment. After the war he married and bought a farm in Springfield. He died there in September 1907.

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The Schinkes, dressed for the early 1900s, told of their ancestors' lives in the first decades of the 20th Century.

Like the Olps, the Schinke family helped build Springfield, starting in 1905, when Charles Schinke bought the Farmers Creamery there.

He was buried in Union Cemetery in 1953.

Members of the Schinke family also owned a lumberyard in Springfield and bought the old railroad depot to use as an office.

The lumberyard is gone, but the depot, renovated and restored, is now the Pedal & Cup, a bike rental and bistro owned by the Schinkes.

Tim Schinke is also the sexton of Union Cemetery.

Relatives buried at Union Cemetery include George and Esther Schinke, Walter and Helen Schinke, Warren Schinke, Gilbert and Ethel Wernicke and Frank and Wilhelmina Peters, parents of Karen Schinke.

Other reenactors and speakers were Nancy Lehman portraying Lucinda M. Gott and Jennifer Coon portraying Emma Gott, Pat Blackmer portraying Hannah Weeks and Michael Hay, who told the story of Nathan Chappel, a veteran of the War of 1812.

Although 17 Civil War veterans are buried there, Union Cemetery's name has no connection to the Civil War. The cemetery was founded in 1857, four years before the war between the states began.

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