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Tales from the Grave – Unraveling Mysteries of the Dead at Dalby Springs Cemetery

Dalby Springs Cemetery
Dalby Springs Cemetery (Photo by Jathan Fink, Townsquare Media)

Like many of the towns we’ve visited on our Small Town Tour, Dalby Springs is rich in history. But some of its story is related by an unexpected source.

“Dead men tell no tales,” British Protestant reformer Thomas Beccon reportedly said in the 1500s. (And here you thought it was something said by a talking skull on a popular theme park attraction called ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ I guess even Disney has been known to borrow a quote or two.)

Regardless of the source, the general idea is true enough. That’s why when I explore a town that has been around for generations, I like to visit the local graveyard. There, the dead don’t tell tales, but their tombstones generally do.

Next to the Dalby Springs United Methodist Church, the Dalby Springs Cemetery still stands as one of the few reminders that this was once a thriving community. The dead have been buried here since Mary Ellen Maglin Proctor Sampson died in 1847. The first Dalby wasn’t laid to rest in this particular cemetery though until Nancy Ann Bullock Dalby died a year later.

While this is all interesting and good, the history I found most fascinating as I walked among the markers on this hot August day came from someone that has been dead for over 100 years.

W.S. Proctor's "Woodmen of the World" tombstone
W.S. Proctor's "Woodmen of the World" tombstone (Photo by Jathan Fink, Townsquare Media)

On Sept. 27, 1911, 26-year-old W.S. Proctor died and was buried beneath a tombstone that resembled a tree trunk. Before today, I’ve never seen another quite like it. But in Dalby Springs Cemetery there are a few of them that still stand, beautifully carved and engraved with the words “Woodmen of the World Memorial.”

Who were these woodmen? Was young Proctor an arborist? Did he haul trees out of the forests to one of the local mills? Or could he have simply been extremely gifted at whittling? I didn’t know, but I was determined to find out.

Upon further investigation, I discovered that Woodmen of the World is “a benevolent secret beneficiary fraternity” started by Joseph Cullen Root. He saw this organization as one that bound together people from every aspect of society and that would “clear away problems of financial security for its members.”

In her blog, “A Grave Interest,” Joy Neighbors relates the entire history of the Woodmen and states that initially, upon death members would receive a tree trunk gravestone as part of their membership, which also included life insurance benefits.

Between 1900 and the mid-1920s, the WOW members purchased a $100 rider that covered the cost of the monument. This would have been the time period in which young Mr. Proctor died and was buried in Dalby Springs Cemetery.

Today, although they no longer commission the tree trunk gravestones, WOW still exists and is based in Omaha, Nebraska where it operates as a life insurance company and fraternity whose mission is to “benefit our members through every stage of life” and whose members “share a commitment to family, community and country.”

So next time you’re teetering on the edge of the underworld, wandering about a cemetery and you come across a unique tombstone, know that it likely has a story to tell that goes beyond names and dates. The dead tell no tales, but they leave behind clues that speak volumes.

Check out some of the other grave markers you will find at Dalby Springs Cemetery below. Then tell us, what is the most interesting tombstone you’ve ever come across?

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