In A Crooked Row

On our travels through Iowa last week, we stopped at a mostly hidden cemetery along a highway posted as the “Avenue of the Saints.” (Nothing religious about that name – it is the stretch of highway extending from its most Northern city, St. Paul, MN, to its southern terminus, St. Louis, MO.)

We happened upon Hickory Grove Cemetery, outside of Mount Pleasant, an east-central Iowa town. An old cemetery, it was of some interest because of the variety of memorials we found honoring soldiers and their descendants from many of the United States’ earlier wars. I found it a worthwhile site to visit for awhile because of its historical significance.

In A Crooked Row

Most of the tombstones were slabs or simple carved stones, no fancy angels or hovering figures and few crosses. A few of the sites had flowers and it was a well-tended area, but it felt haunting, standing high on a hill under a stand of old hickories. Most of the tombstones were from the 1800s; only a few were from the 1900s.

A Soldier of the War of 1812

This man fought in the war of 1812, and died on the cusp of another massive war effort, the War between the States.

Division 20 GAR - Mount Pleasant, Iowa

The star marking D Russell’s tomb is marked FORT 20 GAR. He would have been a member of the GAR – the Grand Army of the Republic. This was an organization founded by returning soldiers from America’s Civil War, and was very active in the Midwest’s Northern tier states. FORT 20 refers to the district Russell attended – in Mount Pleasant, Iowa.


Iowa supported the Northern efforts in the Civil War, and a monument to the state’s soldiers stands in the cemetery.

Daughter of a Revolutionary Soldier

This marker does not honor a soldier, but one of the soldier’s descendants. The woman was a member of the Daughters of the American Republic (DAR) which means she was a lineal female descendant of an American Revolutionary Soldier.

Hickory Grove Cemetery is not unique. It is history. This cemetery is representative of the many small town plots in the countryside of the Midwest – all marking in some way the life paths these people took many scores of years ago.

About Bo Mackison

I'm a photographer, book-artist, traveler, naturalist, and creator of the Contemplative Creatives Journey, An Online Workshop and Community and Desert Wisdom Cards and Workshops. Though often not well known, I find the desert a welcoming place - a healing space. Its mysteries and gifts transformed me several years ago. Since that first encounter, I return again and again to fill my well in what most people think of as a desolate region. I'd love to share my desert discoveries and wisdom with you. Please subscribe to receive my five part mini email course The Gifts of the Desert. It's my gift to you.


  1. You have a very fine eye.

  2. How fascinating. I love old cemeteries. My parents are buried in one like this. Isn’t is interesting how many American towns are named Mount Pleasant? We have one or two here in NC.

  3. A wonderful little vignette on our collective history. It is interesting that wars are among the events that seem to define peoples both in life and death.

  4. Ron in L.A. says:

    Very interesting Barbara.

    Growing up in Brooklyn, there’s a huge cemetary with lots of people of note buried there but I always remember one tombstone that stood out.

    It was from the 1600’s and told of a child that was struck down by a bear crossing Ocean Parkway.

    For some reason, that has always stayed with me, and kept me on the lookout for bears… 😉


  5. montucky says:

    Very interesting. It’s impressive how much history is contained in the few words on a head stone!

  6. Great post, Bo — I love old cemeteries! It’s always fascinating to explore and wonder about the lives represented by the stones.

  7. That was a very interesting tour, Bo. I love exploring cemeteries and learning a little about the people who are buried there.

  8. Wonderful! This reminds me of the cemetary at our cottage in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. (It totally creeps the kids out when we walk over and around the graves!) But I find it peaceful and reverent…I will take my camera up there this summer…thanks for the idea, Bo:)

  9. Cemeteries, especially old ones like this, really intrigue me. I could wander in them for hours reading the markers and thinking up stories about the people in my mind. Wondering what their lives were really like.

    Nice series.

  10. I’m like Laurie as old cemeteries intrigue me. I have wandered in many here in the midwest and wondered about their stories. Sometimes when reading a tombstone, sadness would strike my heart.

    Thanks Bo, for posting these images and writing about them. I have photographed a cemetery and passed by an old one recently… wishing I had photographed it. I agree, as you said, “all marking in some way the life paths these people took many scores of years ago.” So many stories.

  11. Old cemeteries are so fascinating.
    There are many of intriguing ones in Germany and Hungary as well.
    Awesome shots.

  12. I had recently wandered into one of the most lovingly tended cemetery I’ve ever seen. Complete with birdhouses and feeders – and numerous trinkets laid at the site of relatives. The history was both humbling and admirable. Much of it included soldiers of all of the wars – really great tribute here to the cemetery Bo. Nice work.

  13. Nice pictures. You caught a lot of history in just a few shots. I’ve heard cemeteries referred to as “Stone Orchards”.

  14. Rick ~ thanks. There was a lot to ‘eye’ there.

    nouveau ~ Maybe everyone thinks there little piece of land is the most pleasant. But there isn’t much of a mount in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, so I have no idea where why we think our pleasant places have to be lofty. 🙂

    gandalf ~ a history buff paradise, those old cemeteries.

    ron ~ never thought much about bears, but if I was run over by one, guess I’d want that documented on my tombstone… 🙂

    montucky ~ kinda makes me want to plan my ten final words.

    susan, robin ~ I’ve always wandered cemeteries. used to walk them with my grandfather.

    susan ~ my kids won’t walk the graveyards with me either. they think I’M being creepy.

    laurie ~ real life can make good ‘fiction’as found in family plots

    anna ~ thanks, are you going to post your photos?

    nicole ~ I’d love to see the really old European cemeteries.

    aullori ~ thanks. some people really take care of the places of their dead, don’t they. My mom goes to the cemetery weekly. my MIL never has gone – not once that I know of, and my FIL been dead 20 years. different traditions…

    preston ~ I’ve never heard the term stone orchards. very apt.

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