The sound of wings beating and doves cooing stood symbolic Sunday for children’s lives that had ended all too briefly.
The release of 125 doves Sunday at the Maple Grove Cemetery was initially intended to mark its 125th anniversary, but those attending the observation also were asked to focus their attention on the grieving families of the 26 victims of Friday’s school massacre in Connecticut.
The observation Sunday was to mark the gravesite of the first souls ever buried in the cemetery – twin children of Judge W.W. Thomas and his wife, Mary. The children were born premature and died within days of their birth. One was buried Dec. 10, 1887; the other, five days later.
“There was so much pain, there is not even a name,” said Harold George, chairman of the Maple Grove Cemetery board. “We don’t know if the second child was a boy or a girl. They are just listed as an ‘infant of.’ The first was an infant daughter. That’s why we are remembering them as twin children.”
Maple Grove at Ninth and Hillside is Wichita’s second-oldest cemetery. Highland Cemetery, across the street to the west of Maple Grove, is the oldest.
Together, they house some of the most iconic characters to come from the Old West.
Politicians, lawmen, Civil War veterans and philanthropists are buried in Maple Grove. It is the final resting place of Col. “Cannonball” Green, for whom that 60-mile stretch of U.S. 54 from Kingman to Greensburg known as the Cannonball Stage Line is named. It is where Mike Meagher, one of the toughest lawmen of the 1870s, and Jerry “Sockless” Simpson, a leading populist of the 19th century, were buried.
Maple Grove was championed in the late 1880s by A.A. Hyde, the inventor of Mentholatum. He is buried not far from the two infant children.
The Thomas twins were the only ones buried in the family’s 10-grave lot. The rest of the lot was never used.
For 125 years, no burial stone marked their graves.
On Sunday, Harold George said it bothered him that the graves were unmarked.
“I have been sad for years that there wasn’t even a marker for the kids,” he said after the service. “I understand the Victorian Era was different. But these children had no names. My own daughter lived 55 minutes after her birth. She had a name. … These were the first graves here.”
After the 1880s when Wichita’s economy went bust and fortunes were lost, the judge and his wife moved to Oklahoma.
Not long ago, donations were taken up.
And a stone on Sunday was gently eased upon their gravesite.