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McPhersonSentinel - McPherson, KS
  • Tombstone Talks highlight mausoleum history

  • For most of us, the word crypt evokes images of something dark, dank and otherworldly.
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  • For most of us, the word crypt evokes images of something dark, dank and otherworldly.
    A tour of the McPherson Mausoleum Saturday showed that crypts could be a works of art.
    The building itself is constructed of a sandblasted limestone, with limestone arches and carved columns on the interior.
    Stained glass windows cast rainbows of light on white marble crypt faces and candles flicker in twisted wrought-iron holders.
    Crews are nearing completion of a $325,000 renovation project on the mausoleum. The project was funded through donations and funds from the cemetery endowment fund. Carla Barber, director of the McPherson Museum, Randy Pauls, cemetery sexton, and Wayne Morgan of the company doing the renovation project, showcased the mausoleum renovations and related some of the history behind those who are laid to rest there during the museum's annual Tombstone Talks historical tour Saturday night.
    The mausoleum was built in 1930. When the mausoleum was first constructed, it was billed as a cleaner, more civilized form of burial.
    Morgan said the mausoleum was made of the finest materials, but the construction techniques of the early 20th century and well-meant maintenance have threatened the viability of the structure.
    Early workmen used concrete as mortar on the limestone building. Because the concrete was harder than the limestone, water seeped through the stone instead of the mortar joints.
    Workman only recently completed tucking and pointing on the building. In addition, marble had to be removed from the walls to replace a piece of broken granite and the building was reroofed.
    “It was a privilege to work on this building. We don't often work on buildings that are not listed on a historic registry,” Morgan said. “It is great that your city commission and community have chosen to treat this historic building like it should be treated.”
    Now that the construction techniques have been updated on the building, Morgan said the structure should, with maintenance, last for generations to come.
    Three hundred and five people are entombed in the mausoleum today, many of which were major figures in McPherson history.
    Francis Vaniman, his wife, Grace, and their son Wilbur, all are entombed in the mausoleum. Vaniman came to McPherson in 1890. He organized People's Bank in 1898 and served as president for 50 years.
    Vaniman was instrumental in organizing the YMCA. He was a trustee of McPherson College for many years. Construction on the Vaniman House was completed in 1921. After their parents' death, the Vaniman children gave the house to McPherson College. In 1968, the McPherson Museum moved into the house. The museum will remain in the house until next year, when a new museum is completed on Kansas Avenue.
    Leland Abel, 1914-1997, also is entombed in the mausoleum. Abel was a nationally known archeologist with an extensive knowledge of the American Indian cultures. He worked for the National Parks Service and Bureau of Indian Affairs. When Abel retired, he moved back to McPherson where he served on the board of directors of the McPherson Museum, creating its non-profit status. In his will, he created an endowment for the McPherson Museum, which has been providing operating funds for the museum and will serve as the initial funding for the new museum.
    Page 2 of 2 - Henry Harnly, 1862-1934, for which McPherson College's Harnly Hall was named, was the leader of the McPherson College's science department. During a particularly difficult financial time in the school's history, he was one of five professors to whom the trustees leased the college. During this time, the professors took personal financial responsibility for the college's two mortgages, debts and salaries.
    He was acting president between 1913 and 1914 and served as dean and then vice president until his retirement.
    A handful of politicians are entombed in the mausoleum. Perhaps the most prominent among them is James A Cassler, 1881-1980. Cassler was a practicing attorney for more than 60 years. He served in the Kansas Senate from 1943 to 1947 and was city attorney for McPherson for a number of years. He served on a number of civic boards and also made a significant donation toward the creation of museum exhibit that would showcase McPherson history, as such, the new McPherson history wing of the McPherson Museum will be named after Cassler.
    Other notable politicians who were entombed in the mausoleum included Clinton Hawley, 1875-1963, former mayor; Frederick Entriken, 1886-1964, city commissioner; David Maltby, 1861-1956, former mayor and county corner; Robert Matthews 1866-1932, former city commissioner, finance commissioner and deputy sheriff.
    An open house for the renovated mausoleum will be set for a later date once the final touches have been put on the renovation project. Once the construction has been completed, the mausoleum interior can be viewed by making an appointment with the sexton.
    In their closing of the presentation, Barber and Pauls emphasized the mausoleum is not just a place where the dead rest.
    It is a place where people grieve, where people remember and where the community shares history, the presenters said.
    “This is a community building,” Barber said. “We have a shared history here.”
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