Woodmen leave mark in Niles

Published 4:59 pm Monday, July 23, 2007

By By Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery
NILES – Here even the trees tell a story.
Last week we learned about the tree within Silverbrook Cemetery that holds a portion of the wrought iron fence within its trunk. Today we look to where the trunks themselves commemorate the dead.
Come to the grave of our Sovereign,
Sweet emblems upon it we see.
Come to the grave of our Sovereign,
Strew flowers upon it with me.
This chorus, sung to the tune My Bonnie is part of an opening ode sang during a "Woodmen of the World, Ceremony of Introduction to the Protection Degree, promulgated by the Ritual Committee of the Sovereign Camp, 1903," according to the website: www.phoenixmasonry.org/masonicmuseum/fraternalism/woodmen.htm.
Woodmen of the World is a fraternal organization in the United States. The organization was grounded in 1890 in Omaha, Neb. by Joseph Cullen Root, after he began a similar organization known as Modern Woodmen.
Woodmen of the World is one of the leading presenters of U.S. flags to schools and non-profit groups. Woodmen lodges have presented more than 1.4 million U.S. flags over the past 60 years.
Originally, when a member died, a hat would be passed to provide assistance to the member's family. Later, the organization began offering life insurance to its members with its first certificate of membership issued to William A. McCully of Independence, Kan. on Dec. 29, 1890.
Niles' first notable connection with the Woodmen came six months later. The organization paid its first death claim on the life of a teen, Willie D. Warner, who drowned June 14, 1891, in Niles.
The Niles Republican II reported the incident in its Thursday, June 18, 1891 edition.
Transcribed by Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery member Ann Flora, the transcript states:
"A distressing accident occurred Sunday afternoon about 5 o'clock, by which William Warner, a bright and promising young man, lost his life.
"At the hour above indicated three boys – William Warner, John Young and a little brother of the latter, were bathing in the river at a point about three-quarters of a mile from the city, known as Brown's eddy.
"From numerous reports, it seems that the unfortunate young man could not swim and getting into deep water seemed to lose all presence of mind and gave up without even so much as a call for help. One of the Young boys noticed him as he went under the water and calling to his brother, endeavored to rescue him but to no avail, he nearly losing his own life in the attempt."
It would seem the river, as with recent news out of South Bend, has always lured young men to its banks. The notice made mention of young Warner's relationship to the Woodmen of the World.
"Deceased was a member of the Woodmen of the World, having only been a member about six weeks, and carried an insurance of $2,500, which reverts to his mother…
"The funeral of the late William Warner occurred at 10:30 o'clock Tuesday morning from the Methodist Church under the auspices of the Woodmen of the World, which organization attended in a body."
Wikepedia speaks of the physical legacies of the tree stump monuments such as those found in Silverbrook Cemetery as follows:
One of the most enduring physical legacies of the organization may be the number of distinctive headstones erected in the shape of a tree stump. This was an early benefit of Woodmen memberships and headstones can be found in cemeteries across the nation."
The Woodmen continue. This year Caralyn A. Shelton, daughter of Joseph and Deborah Shelton of Niles, was the recipient of a $2,750 four-year Modern Woodmen fraternal college scholarship, following a national competition of other members.
As one of 36 regional winners, she met the selection standards regarding personal and academic achievement in addition to qualities of leadership, character and participation in extracurricular activities.
For more information on Friends of Silverbrook with regards to memberships and work days to help restore and catalog the monuments contact: Friends of Silverbrook Cemetery c/o 508 E. Main St. Niles MI 49120, Tim and Candace Skalla at 684-2455, wskalla@sbcglobal.net or contact Ginny Tyler at 684-3687, SPHINX1974@aol.com.