York County homesteader family disappointed, hurt, by theft of items from child graves

YORK – Members of a York County homesteader family are “very disappointed” in the fact someone stole special items from the graves of children sometime between Wednesday, May 22, and Monday, June 3.

Donna (Barr) DeKalb from Lincoln, a member of the Barr Family – which has a large, special monument in the older section of Greenwood Cemetery in York, as they were some of the first to homestead York County – talked about how her family members are upset with the fact someone stole special items from pioneer children’s graves.

She explained how a large stone with the Barr family name exists in the northwest portion (the older area) of Greenwood Cemetery. In front of that large stone are small stones dedicated to the graves of numerous children – mostly young boys.

“My sister, Marilyn Jean Barr, is buried there. She died in infancy in 1944. The rest are a number of gravesites for little boys in the Barr family – some died in infancy, some died in farm accidents, back at the turn of the century. They would have been our uncles, our great-uncles. There is a grave of a little boy in the Barr family who died in the 1950s. But the rest are very, very old graves. They were all children when they died,” DeKalb said.

She said the Barr family descendants are very proud of the fact their ancestors homesteaded this area of Nebraska, choosing to call York County home. They are also very proud of how generations have remembered the children who were lost along the way.

Those older graves exist in that area of Greenwood while later, newer graves for the family were created in a different area of the cemetery. But that older burial spot – dedicated to the children – has always been sacred and special to her extended family.

“Most of our family line has since moved away,” DeKalb said. “But the extended family has been decorating those graves for a very long time.”

Her predecessors made sure to always decorate the graves of the family’s children and DeKalb says she and a sibling took over the task about 25 years ago.

They call them “the babies’ graves,” where the young ones are buried. Yes, her sister’s grave is included in that area, which makes it special in itself. But the fact all those young boys died so long ago, being buried in that family plot, has also been a special location for all of them.

“Our family has long called it the ‘row of babies’ and we’ve been dedicated to remembering they were here,” DeKalb said. “The old stones have reminded us of the old-fashioned windmills the boys would have known and we have always wanted to frill up the grave of our little sister, who is the only girl buried there. We just don’t want those kids to be forgotten. We decorate before Memorial Day and also at Christmas time, with snowmen and toy trucks. We enjoy it and hope other people will see it and smile, as we remember children who might not otherwise be thought of. We inherited this task and take it very seriously.”

She said she and other family members, including one from Kansas, arrived at the Greenwood Cemetery the Wednesday before Memorial Day weekend. They put tulips on all the graves with “little whirlies” for the boys’ graves (to depict the windmills of the day) and butterflies for her sister.

“Then, on Monday, June 3, I drove back to York to pick up the decorations, which are special to us for these specific graves, and they were not there,” DeKalb said.

At that point, Todd Gardner, caretaker for Greenwood Cemetery, said they (Greenwood employees) had not yet removed any markers or flowers of any kind. He encouraged DeKalb and her family members to get the word out, as at this point, there is no way to know who took them.

“We have done this for decades and have not had any problems,” DeKalb said. “Someone came in and took these special items we chose and placed just for the row of babies, to continue our family’s dedication. They took the special markers for the boys, for my sister; they even took the large bouquet we put in front of the main family gravestone. The rest of the family is buried in the newer section on the east side of the cemetery, which wasn’t touched – but what we put out there for the children’s plot, it’s all gone.”

During this time of year, it is extremely difficult to know if someone is stealing items from graves because of the volume of traffic through cemeteries – and the idea of someone doing that is, well, pretty unthinkable to most people.

“I’m just disappointed someone would feel the need to steal things offered for the dead,” DeKalb said. “These are things offered to remember the past. Things placed in a row of children’s graves. It’s really, well, it’s almost, well, it is, sacrilegious. I guess we really do this for the living, to remember, but I also believe someone in heaven notices. We believe we die twice – once when we transition from the physical world and then again if no one remembers you. We just want to make sure those children are remembered. That’s it. Nothing more. This was something we took on as the next generation of our family, to continue, and now someone took this from us.”

DeKalb said if someone wants to return the property, the process can be very simple and painless for all parties.

“Just take the items back to the cemetery, take them to the office door and leave them there,” she said. “It would be so greatly appreciated. No questions asked. Just bring them back, so we can go back to remembering our row of children we have been entrusted with.”


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