Family recalls a boy buried in ‘unmarked grave’ in Lansing
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Gladys McKimmy nearly took a shameful family secret to her grave.
Most members of her large family did not know about Richard McKimmy, her husband’s younger brother, who died on Christmas Day 1926 at the Boys Training School in Lansing at the age of 12.
It took the persistence of Gladys McKimmy’s granddaughter, Michelle Pohl of Portland, to put Richard back in the family’s history.
He’s one of 61 boys who died at the institution between 1860 and 1933. They are buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Except for McKimmy, the youths lie in unmarked graves on a hill, the Lansing State Journal reported.
That could soon change. A group raising money for markers announced it has more than $18,000 toward the $21,000 needed to place small granite markers on each grave.
Loretta Stanaway, president of the Friends of Lansing’s Historic Cemeteries, said fundraising began in April and was expected to take several years.
But since news coverage of their effort, unexpected donations have poured in. They include a $10,000 check from Ed MacKenzie of Grand Ledge, a business owner who remembers scrimmaging against the training school’s football team, and a $5,000 anonymous donation from a former Lansing man living in Florida whose godfather was a worker at the school.
The school closed in 1972 after 116 years of operation.
Michelle Pohl, who works as a manager at DSW in Eastwood Towne Center, said she didn’t know about her great uncle Richard when her grandfather, Oliver McKimmy, died in 1991. Oliver was Richard’s older brother.
She said she began asking questions of her grandmother, Gladys, Oliver’s wife, around 1999 when she visited her in her nursing home.
“I’m obsessed. I love knowing my family’s history,” she said.
Gladys mentioned that there was a McKimmy brother buried at Mt. Hope, the same cemetery where Oliver McKimmy was buried. Michelle knew of five other siblings of her grandfather but had not heard of this one.
Cemetery records led her to the hill where the Boys Training School graves were marked by a single monument, believed to have been placed in the 1950s. Pohl was stunned. She went back to her grandmother.
At first Gladys didn’t want to talk about it. It was something that bothered her husband throughout his life.
Then the story came out bit by bit, Pohl said
Richard McKimmy was the son of Somers and Cora McKimmy, the sixth of seven children, born in Maryland. The family moved to Lansing, but the couple divorced at some point. Richard lived with his father, but, when his father remarried, Richard was sent to the training school
“He was not a delinquent child. He was not a bad kid. His family did not want him so he was awarded to the state,” Pohl said.
Her grandfather, Richard’s older brother by 11 years, was a laborer at the time, shoveling coal.
“My grandfather was very upset about that, but, at the time, he was just getting married and Richard was just 10 years old. Starting a family and taking on a younger brother at that age and time just wouldn’t happen.”
Pohl believes Richard was at the training school for a few years before he died.
“That was something my grandpa always regretted and always was very upset with his mom and dad for doing that,” she said.
She also looked up Richard McKimmy’s death certificate and found he had an operation at the hospital at the Boys Training School 10 days before his death. He died from an infection on the right side of his neck. It’s unclear what caused that infection, Pohl said, and her grandmother didn’t have more information.
Pohl and a handful of relatives paid for a marker for Richard’s grave in 2000. Her grandmother was able to visit the grave before she died in 2003 at the age of 98.
Loretta Stanaway, at a recent news conference, read from a short history Pohl wrote about Richard McKimmy.
“He died alone with no family around on Christmas Day at age of 12. He was buried in an unmarked grave like he didn’t exist.” Pohl wrote.
“Well he did exist, and all of these boys existed,” Stanaway said. “It’s our job to show they were here. They lived, and they died, and it’s about time they were recognized.”
A dedication of the new markers is expected by August.
Information from: Lansing State Journal, http://www.lansingstatejournal.com