tombstone blues (riddle hill is leveled but gets back on its feet)

Revised Apr. 29, 2016

It’s always nice to find a story with a positive outcome.  The following is the text of a memorial plaque placed at Riddle Hill Cemetery:

“RIDDLE HILL GETS ITS NAME FROM THE EXTENDED FAMILY OF GEORGE AND SARAH RIDDLE , NATIVES OF EASTERN AND WESTERN-MOST PARTS OF KY AND VA, WHO MOVED WEST IN SEARCH OF A NEW AND BETTER PLACE TO RAISE THEIR FAMILY.  THEY CAME DOWN THE OHIO, CROSSED THE  MISSISSIPPI, AND SETTLED ON THE HIGH GROUND OF CROWLEY’S RIDGE.  THEY FARMED AND OPERATED A GRIST MILL IN THE BETHANY COMMUNITY ABOUT FOUR MILES NORTH OF THIS SPOT.

ONE OF THEIR SONS, JOHN RIDDLE, WAS BORN IN PADUCAH, KENTUCKY ON MARCH 2, 1828, ACCOMPANIED HIS PARENTS AND SIBLINGS TO THE NEW HOME SITE, AND BECAME ONE OF THE FOUNDERS AND ELDERS OF NEARBY BETHANY CHURCH.  IN 1854 JOHN MARRIED JOELLA BECKWITH, A MEMBER OF A PROMINENT AREA FAMILY, PURCHASED THIS LAND AND HEWED A FARM FROM THE WILDERNESS ON THIS SCENIC HIGH POINT.  HERE THEY PROSPERED AND RAISED A LARGE FAMILY.

THE RIDDLE FAMILY CEMETERY WAS LOCATED NORTH AND EAST OF THIS SPOT.  IN THE 1970’S THE TOMBSTONES FROM THAT CEMETERY WERE PUSHED INTO THE NEARBY RAVINE. THESE WERE RECOVERED AND PLACED HERE BY MR. VERYL RIDDLE, A DIRECT DESCENDANT.”

Veryl Riddle collected the surviving Riddle Hill Cemetery tombstones, cleaned them, and erected them within an iron fence enclosure.  There were nine surviving tombstones: James A. Riddle, Joellan (Beckwith) Riddle, John Riddle, Joseph F. Riddle, Luther Riddle, Press Riddle, Robert R. Riddle, Sophronia Jane (Tompkins) Riddle, and Dixie (Snedacor) Riddle.  

All descendants of this Riddle family are deeply indebted to Veryl Riddle.

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The remainder of this column describes the conditions at (Old) Riddle Hill Cemetery as my parents found them:

This tombstone belongs to Joellan (Beckwith) Riddle, wife of John Franklin Riddle.  Joellan was the daughter of Joseph and Eliza J. (Creath) Beckwith of Stoddard Co., MO, and grandmother of Allie May (Oxley) Chipman, wife of James Edward Chipman.

These photos were taken by Ralph Vernon Chipman at Riddle Hill Cemetery in northern Dunklin Co., MO.  Joellan (Beckwith) Riddle’s tombstone was found in a thicket.  Evidently a developer had bulldozed the tombstones off the graves, and they were tossed into a wooded area.

The next tombstone is that of Robert R. Riddle, son of John Franklin Riddle and Joellan Beckwith.  Robert R. Riddle married Safronia Jane Tomkins.  Ralph Vernon Chipman read Robert R. Riddle’s death date as “April 6, 1895,” but my notes indicate he died on 6 Apr 1896.  However, it does appear that the tombstone says “1895.”

This tombstone belongs to Luther Riddle, a grandson of John Franklin Riddle and Joellan Beckwith.  Luther Riddle’s father was George R. Riddle, who married a woman with the initials “M.C.,” but I know nothing further of her.  Luther Riddle’s tombstone is quite ornate.  He was 9 years old when he died.

I can’t comprehend how someone could desecrate a cemetery.  Scattered around the property there must have been more tombstones of John Franklin Riddle and Joellan Beckwith’s children and grandchildren and various spouses.  We are fortunate to have preserved these three tombstones in photographs.  Considering the difficult conditions, the photos are remarkably clear.

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Ralph Vernon Chipman’s account of the circumstances under which the above photos were taken, from a letter dated 4 Jul 1988:

On June 29, 1988 we were fortunate to have assistance in locating  the gravestones of the Riddle family.  The graveyard is obliterated.  The gravestones are at the rear of a vacant lot:  the lot is immediately east of the brick residence of George Hampton Sr., RFD 2, Malden [Dunklin Co.], Mo.  telephone [*].  It is on blacktop road J about 4 miles west of Malden.  The vacant lot is overgrown with grass and weeds some two foot high, and the lot is about 200 X 200 foot in size.  The stones are at the top of a ravine, or hill, at the rear (north side) of the lot, back among thorn trees, vines, poison ivy/oak, brush, and evidently copperhead snakes (poisonous variety).  It is not known when the stones were moved from the gravesites, or who moved them.  There are approximately 6–7 stones, and bases, piled into a heap, that I saw at the top of the ravine, and of these only three inscriptions could be read.  The others weighed 200–400 pounds each so they were too heavy for one sixty year old, and a boy, to lift or roll over.  Also, it was raining steadily at the time making everything wet, slick and muddy, including George Hampton Jr. (a young fellow 16–17 years old who guided me to the stones, or I would never have found them), and me.  George Jr. thought there were additional stones at the ravine bottom, under brush, grass, and weeds, but we did not attempt to find them.  The inscriptions I copied carefully, and photographed, were:

1.  “Joellan, wife of John Riddle, born Nov. 20, 1831, died Aug. 6, 1896”  It was translucent marble, obelisk, some 4 feet high, plus base, with perfect cut letters, not weathered at all.

2.  “Robert Riddle, born July 28, 1855, died April 6, 1895”

3.  “Luther, son of G.R. & M.C. Riddle, born Feb. 25, 1894, died Jan. 8, 1904”

* Telephone number has been omitted.

~ by Jeffrey Thomas Chipman on April 25, 2016.