A Lonesome Tombstone

Yesterday, Gerard Fiehler and I solved a mystery.  Last week in a blog post, it was said that we did not know where two Wagner men were buried.  Now we at least know where one of those two ended up.

We were at the museum yesterday talking to one of our more seasoned docents, Caroline Littge, who is a descendant of one of the Palisch daughters highlighted in yesterday’s post.  The topic of the Wagner brothers came up in the conversation.  Caroline mentioned that she remembered a tombstone that was set apart from the rest at the Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery, and she seemed to think that it was a Wagner that was buried there.  Caroline is a member of that church.  Her recollection also included the fact that this particular tombstone had been separated from the rest of the cemetery because the person buried there had committed suicide.

Well, this information piqued our curiosity, so Gerard and I had to head out to Immanuel’s cemetery to check it out.  Here is what we found.  The tombstone in question is shown on the left in this photo.

Immanuel Lutheran Cemetery – Altenburg

Caroline also indicated that this tombstone had once be separated from the rest by a fence.

The tombstone is indeed marked at the bottom with the name Wagner.

Wagner Tombstone

Next, we had to determine the exact name.  A closer view on this next photo should enable you to see what we saw.


The name which is shown using the older German writing is indeed Gustave Wagner, and it indicates that he died in the year 1882.  You may recall that Gustave was married to Therese (Palisch) Wagner.  Gustave ran a livery stable while Therese ran the hotel.  The last census in which Gustave is listed is the 1880 census, so the date of death on this tombstone seems to fit other facts.

There are reasons why this tombstone has not been discovered by us before now.  First of all, there is no record of Gustave’s death in the Immanuel Lutheran church records.  Second of all, the findagrave.com website does not list any Wagners buried in the Immanuel Cemetery.  We had to literally go to the cemetery to find this grave.

I imagine that different congregations and different pastors have determined at different times what their policy was going to be concerning a death by suicide.  I have heard of other cemeteries that have buried such individuals “outside the fence” similar to what appears to have been done at Immanuel.  Others may not be marked in any way at all.  When I visited the Amana Colonies in Iowa several years ago, someone there said that they bury those who committed suicide with their stone (and their bodies) facing the west instead of the usual east.  Also, apparently there are some instances when a suicide death is not even recorded in the church records.  This presents difficulties for anyone doing genealogical work.  As it is, we still do not know that Gustave Wagner certainly committed suicide.  The story is only story passed on for generations.

Suicide is always a difficult subject to talk about, and it will probably always be a bone of contention when it comes up for discussion in a church.

By the way, Gustave’s wife, Therese, is buried in the Trinity Lutheran Cemetery in Altenburg.

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