Halloween is my favorite holiday. I absolutely love the fall, and I’ve always been a sucker for a good ghost story. So, as the leaves start changing color and the temperature begins to drop, I’m going to share a tale that has a little bit of the personal, a little bit of the historical, and just a shade of the supernatural.
I’m the fifth generation of my mother’s family to live in the Quad Cities area in Eastern Iowa. They had originally come to Davenport from Washington, Iowa, south of Iowa City. One of them was George Warren.
George was one of five children. His father, John, was a carpenter, and all the boys followed in his footsteps. If some of the stories I’ve been told are true, then they were all probably pretty good carpenters, too.
In about 1906, the family decided to pull up stakes and move northeast to Davenport, Iowa. Eventually, George would find work at the Sieg Iron Works in what is now downtown Davenport.
The Sieg Iron Works had been co-founded by Reinhart Sieg and his partner, Alexander Williams. It dealt in heavy hardware, and was a very successful and profitable endeavor for the two men.
Sieg had been born in Germany in 1828. Both of his parents passed away when he was just thirteen years old, but they left him with more than enough money and resources to live on. In 1849, he immigrated to the United States.
He opened a successful tobacco business in Davenport, finally selling it in 1866. A few years later, Sieg met Alexander Williams and founded the iron works. Williams died in 1887, and Sieg took over sole ownership.
He was a good manager, just and fair to his employees. Sieg appreciated the fact that, through their endeavors, they had helped him to gain his position and his fortune. He was extremely grateful for this, so he organized his company in a way that allowed his workers to buy stock and benefit from the overall profits of his Iron Works.
Sieg himself died in 1890, but the iron works continued to operate at a profit, still bearing his name.
George Warren found himself working there in 1911, a little over twenty years later. He had been married and divorced by this time, but the carpentry trade was still good to him.
One day, George and some others were doing some work on an upper floor of the factory. Part of this work required them to walk across some wooden planks that had been thrown across an open hole in the floor.
Back and forth they trudged across those boards, without a care or a problem. However, unbeknownst to them, one of the boards had slowly slid across the floor. With every passing, the far end scooted closer and closer to the edge of the hole.
As Uncle George began to walk across them for what would be his final time, that board gave way. George felt the floor literally disappear under his feet, a brief sensation of weightlessness as he fell a full story, and then nothing at all when the back of his head collided with the concrete floor below.
Immediately, his fellow workers were at his side, checking to see if he was alright. It very quickly became obvious that he wasn’t, and an ambulance was called.
Poor Uncle George, with his smashed head, was taken back to his home. 1911 was still in an era where doctors made house calls, so I imagine that a doctor was summoned to check on him there. Either way, it didn’t matter. George lingered for a few days, and then died of his wounds.
One of the things that I’ve always found most interesting about my Washington relatives is that they all wanted to be buried there. Even though John Warren, his wife Caroline, and all their children lived here, they were all shipped back and buried in Elm Grove Cemetery at the edge of Washington, Iowa.
It’s funny that we can move from a place and stay away for forty years, but we always think of it as home. Maybe that was part of the reason why, after a funeral held in Davenport, the mortal remains of George Warren, his parents, and all his siblings made their last meandering cross-country trip back southwest to Washington.
Years later, I started doing research into my family history. George’s brother, Oliver, was my great, great grandfather, and when I finally found him, I was able to find all the others. None of my living relatives had been aware of George, as he had died when my great grandfather and his sister were very young, and was never really mentioned.
Knowing that they were all there, I really wanted to go to Washington myself and visit their graves. I was excited, and couldn’t hardly wait. I told my Dad about it, and he agreed to go with me. The trip was set. So, one day after I got off work in the early morning, him and I made the hour and half trip south from where we lived at the time to visit some of my dead relatives.
Thanks to Google Maps and the miracle of modern technology, we were able to find both the town and the cemetery very quickly. As we drove through the town, I could see why my ancestors had all wanted to return there.
Washington is a pretty town, full of old houses and tall trees. It has a big town square, lined with historical buildings. Looking at it, it made me think that this is what all rural Midwestern small towns should look like.
Before too long, Dad and I arrived at the cemetery. It was very clean and well kept. We drove to the caretaker’s office, where he was kind enough to help us find the burial records. It turned out that all my relatives were buried in the same area, which wasn’t unusual or surprising. He had some work to do, so he asked some of his fellow workers to show us to the gravesite.
They were very friendly and helpful, but the two men weren’t sure where exactly the grave was. So, they took us to the section it was in, and wished us the best. While I was appreciative, I was also slightly frustrated. The section was huge. The men did give us a map, but it wasn’t much of a help. With a sigh, Dad and I set to the tedious work of finding the grave.
For those of you who have never done this, let me take a moment to explain. You can either idle down the cemetery roads, scanning the names on the tombstones from your car window, or you can walk the rows of the cemetery section doing the same thing. Either way, it’s generally inefficient and very tedious.
It’s easy to miss the name and the tombstone, and that day was no exception. Dad and I tried both methods, and found nothing. I was disappointed. I wanted to see the ancestors, and I wasn’t sure when I would be able to make the trip back to Washington. So, with a heavy heart, I got back in the car and started to drive out of the cemetery.
As we drove through Elm Grove on our way to the exit, I suddenly got this strange sensation.
Have you ever had someone shout out to you very suddenly in a quiet place? There’s that sense of shock and surprise, and your senses come alive. Well, that was the exact feeling that I had right at that moment. I experienced every sensation to go along with someone calling out to me, but I never heard a sound.
Almost instinctually, my head snapped to the right, staring out the car window. And that’s when I saw it.
It was a two to three-foot-tall headstone, made from gray granite. And there, on the surface, was the name “Warren.”
I excitedly told Dad to stop the car. I got out and walked quickly to the grave, ecstatic that I had found a relative. There were only two names on the stone, but George was one of them. I looked around the area, hoping to find the rest of them, but that was the only headstone we could find.
As it turned out, that headstone marked the burial place of all my Warren relatives that had returned home to Washington. I don’t know why they decided to not put any other names on it, but I was able to confirm that they were all buried there.
As we left that day, I was happy that our trip had been successful. But I still couldn’t shake that feeling that I got before we found it. I swear that someone – or something – had called out to me at that moment. It was like being at a restaurant looking for someone you’re trying to meet, and you hear them call your name. It was exactly like that.
I honestly can’t say for sure what it was. Maybe I was just overtired. But I know that I must have walked past that headstone two times or more and never saw it, and that I didn’t see it until I looked over from the passenger seat of my Dad’s car.
In truth, I’ll probably never know. But maybe, just maybe, Uncle George and everyone else saw me and yelled out to me to get my attention. Maybe they wanted to see me as much as I wanted to see them.
You have been reading John Brassard Jr., the Kitchen Table Historian. Please check in every week or so for brand new true stories of triumph, tragedy, and everything in-between. If you want to make it easier on yourself, you can subscribe to John’s blog and have new entries sent directly to your inbox, or you can ‘Like’ the Kitchen Table Historian Facebook page, and receive them in your news feed.
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