The images caught my eye two years ago while I was doing research into the establishment of the Mound City National Cemetery. The photographs depict the cemetery in March 1900 according to a date stamped in ink on the boarder of one of the images. They’re historic pictures – without a doubt – and they could be among the oldest in existence that feature the national cemetery near Mound City. They contain several historic elements, which I’ll write about later. But first I’d like to talk about the people in those pictures and how the 1900 census can help us identify them.
All three of the images are on display at the Caretaker’s Lodge where the Mound City National Cemetery Preservation Commission maintains a history display.
My particular interest was to learn if the man dressed in black (see below) was the cemetery superintendent. As I wrote and directed in a documentary created for the commission: Quiet Acres: The Story of the Mound City National Cemetery, the superintendent was responsible for the grounds and general upkeep of the burial site. He also had to be a veteran of the Civil War.
Throughout my work on the Mound City project, I never found a picture of a superintendent. That’s why these photographs offered an interesting opportunity to see if I could identify the “man in black.” I suspected he was a superintendent.
I located the 1900 Census on ancestry.com and started leafing through the pages for Mound City, one page at a time, looking for someone with the job title of Superintendent of the National Cemetery. After scanning through 57 pages, I found it:
The “Man in Black” may be William Dillon, 55. The woman standing next to him in the image could be Emma, 35. At the time of the 1900 Census they had been married 17 years and had four children.
I am unable to provide specific evidence William Dillon was a superintendent at the cemetery beyond this circumstantial evidence. However, I do recall seeing his name on documents within the cemetery files at the National Archives. The ages seem to match with the images. He looks 55; she 35. Furthermore, the image shows two children, which I’ll talk more about below.
Here’s an image of the cemetery’s caretaker’s lodge featuring four girls, including three with bicycles. If you look at the census excerpts, you’ll see that William and Emma Dillon had four children, including three girls aged 7, 10 and 14.
A close up of the image suggests the three girls on the right belong to the Dillon family. The taller girl on the left looks to be 14. The girl to the far right looks to be 10. The small girl in front matches the physical appearance of a seven year old. Plus, the youngest girl can also be found in the first image with her parents. According to the census, this little girl’s name is Emma Dillon, the same as her mother.
Her style of hair and distinctive forehead, I believe, help confirm Emma’s identification in these images. There is one more identifying feature – the bicycles. The two girls on the right in the Caretaker image have similar bicycles with a unique design feature on the rear wheels. To me this is a classic giveaway the two bicyclists may be related. One can imagine the father buying the two bicycles at the same time from the same outlet.
Based on what I’ve learned through the census of 1900 and all the circumstantial evidence (and a healthy dose of pure conjecture), I would suggest the family identified in the images made at the Mound City National Cemetery in March 1900 is that of William Dillion, 55, and his wife Emma 35, and their three girls: Gertrude, 14; Clara, 10 and Emma, 7.
There is another little girl in the caretaker image. I cannot identify her at this time, but I’ll continue to research the question. I did check the census to see if a neighbor might be found with a pre-teen or teenage girl, but I couldn’t find any.
The cemetery image shows a man standing on the far right. William Dillon did have several sons, including one that was about the same age as Emma, who would be his step-mother. Based on the census and these images, I cannot say if the man is one of William’s sons. I will continue to look into this and report back if I learn anything new
If these images had been made a year or more later, I doubt I could have identified the family. I got lucky. These images were made only four months before census enumerator Frank B. Allen stopped by to collect the names of those who lived at the national cemetery.
When the images were taken in the earliest days of spring 1900, William had been on the job for less than one year. In June 1899, Thomas A. Fitzpatrick, the superintendent that preceded him, was shot to death by a disgruntled cemetery worker. That worker’s body was found in November 1899 less than mile from the scene of the shooting. He apparently killed Fitzpatrick and then escaped to a remote location and shot himself.