Ghouls Visit Bethlehem Cemetery
Daily Democrat, Clinton MO, July 17 2001
The tombstone of an early-day settler here is missing from Bethlehem Cemetery, east of Clinton.
Anna Jane Blumhost and her daughter, Elizabeth Ann, told the Democrat staff of this last week when they were here from Jefferson City. Anna Jane was a longtime Clinton resident and Elizabeth Ann was raised here, too, but worked for state government for a number of years.
The missing stone was on the grave of A.J. Vickers, who gave the land for both the church and the cemetery and who died in 1899. The ground is perfectly leveled off where the stone formerly was embedded, the two ladies said.
Mrs. Blumhost is Absalom Vickers' first great-great-granddaughter. and the ancestral line continued down through the Vickers' daughter, Laura, who married Dr. Perez S. Jennings, who also is buried in Bethlehem Cemetery.
A biographical sketch of Absalom Vickers prepared by G.T. Hunt depicts Vickers as a hardy frontiersman who along with his wife Elizabeth, left Muhlenberg Co., Kentucky (now McClean County) in 1850. They joined the tide of emigrants who were moving into the prairie region north and west of the Ohio River.
The couple temporarily settled in Hancock Co., Illinois, and then moved on to the Bethlehem community in the fall of 1854.
Anna Jane Blumhost relates how her grandfather decided to settle in the Bethlehem community. "When my grandfather came here, he saw several springs and the Grand River. He decided to stop right then and there to settle. And his relatives have never been low on water since!" she exclaims.
Mr. Vickers purchased 56 acres of farm land from the government and built a house. The Bethlehem Baptist Church was organized on September 6, 1854. "My grandfather came here from Muhlenberg Co., Kentucky, where he attended the Bethlehem Baptist Church," Mrs. Blumhost related. "I guess that's where the church got its name."
Absalom and Elizabeth Vickers along with their daughter, Laura, were among the 20 persons who united with the church at its first meeting. Vickers later became a deacon.
At first services were held in the home of James Lee four miles southeast of Clinton. Religious meetings were conducted by early pioneer preachers from St. Clair Co., Elder Peter Brown and W.C. Wright made the trip to the Lee home for services from Osceola - a journey of 30 miles.
In 1856, Deacon Vickers gave four acres for a meeting house, cemetery and yard. A frame meeting house was built from rough-hewn logs cut by broad axes, and the ladies of the church lined the walls of that first meeting house with domestic.
"Domestic is white muslin," Mrs. Blumhost explains. "They put a starch paste on it made from flour and water and then it looks like wallpaper."
Elder Brown continued to meet with the small congregation for two years and often preached sermons that ran over two hours, according to historical notes compiled on the Baptist Church. The church congregation continued to grow in numbers with ministers riding horseback over the years to preach to the congregation.
In 1858, Dr. P.S. Jennings united with the church after marrying the Vickers' daughter Laura. He later became church superintendent. Dr. Jennings is Mrs. Blumhost's great-grandfather. A memorial window in honor of Dr. Jennings was placed by the family in Bethlehem Church, as he was their first deacon. An old letter, from 1909, described the church at that time ... "The building is painted gray or drab, trimmed with light brown and is very much prettier than I thought it would be ..."
When the old church was torn down, Mrs. Blumhost relates, someone at the Museum took the window and placed it in the museum display. She hopes that the story of the window could be placed by the display. Meanwhile, there has been much vandalism at Bethlehem Cemetery and the missing Vickers' stone is just one sad chapter to the story.