Column: Elizabeth Firth is Worthington's oldest 'resident'

Editor's note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run "Isn't That Something" columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and...

Editor’s note: Former longtime Daily Globe Editor Ray Crippen died Dec. 27, 2015. We will continue to publish previously run “Isn’t That Something” columns on Saturdays, until further notice, as a tribute to Crippen and his knowledge of local and regional history. The following column first appeared June 2, 2007.

WORTHINGTON - We made our Memorial Day weekend trips to cemeteries. If you were at Worthington Cemetery, did you notice the marker for Elizabeth Firth? Mrs. Firth’s stone is in the southeast quadrant of - oh - of what can be called the main intersection.
Elizabeth Firth was born in England in 1799. If those in cemeteries are called “residents,” Elizabeth is Worthington Cemetery’s oldest resident. This year will bring the 208th anniversary of her birth.
In a point of fact,
Mrs. Firth is much older than the cemetery itself. She was 74 in the year Worthington Cemetery was created.
The evidence is that Elizabeth’s son Robert, born in Leeds, England, in 1828, came to Nobles County’s Lorain Township to live with his son Arthur born in 1866. The passing of years left Elizabeth alone in England. She (evidently) agreed to come to America and to live amid homesteaders in a strange and primitive land for the sake of being with her family.
How do I know there is no one older than Elizabeth Firth in that hallowed place?
I take Howard Washnesky’s word for this.
Howard devoted his life to maintaining Worthington Cemetery, to mowing grass, fighting weeds, clearing snow from roads, setting tilted stones aright. His first years at his job were in that time when it still was necessary to dig graves by hand. Howard’s was a life of service.
Through passing decades Howard came to know the names all about him and to compare dates. It was he who determined Elizabeth Firth is the eldest among them all.
One boy asked his father last weekend, “Is Governor Miller the most important one in this cemetery?” The father replied, “Out here no one more important and no one less important. Everyone is equal.”
I certainly do not dispute this. I was thinking, however, that sometime in the summer ahead I may once again find a way to what still might be called the Most Important Gravesite for our region. I am thinking of the grave of Sgt. Charles Floyd at Sioux City, which is America’s First National Historic Landmark. Sgt. Floyd’s white stone obelisk, 100 feet high, is patterned on the Washington Monument.
I always have enjoyed Sioux City. I always have enjoyed the drive to Sioux City, wending along the Floyd River which is named for (1) the illustrious, (2) the hapless Sgt. Floyd. Charles Floyd, a volunteer, was the only member of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery to die during the great trek from St. Louis to the Pacific Ocean and back.
The last time I saw the Floyd Monument, another person at the site said, “Well, he isn’t actually buried here, is he?”
He is.
In a point of fact, the parts of Sgt. Floyd which remain and which are buried at the obelisk are identified:
“…skull with lower jaw; right femur, 18 inches long; a tibia, 15 inches long; a fibula, 14.75 inches long; part of another fibula; one vertebra; one clavicle; portions of several ribs…”
Did you want to know this?
Charles Floyd was one of two sergeants with the Corps of Discovery. He was (about) 21 years old when he died. It is thought he suffered appendicitis. He was among the most able and popular of the explorers and Meriwether Lewis termed him a “young man of much merit.”
The National Landmark that is Sgt. Floyd’s grave today is not the original grave. By 1806, when the explorers returned to the high bluff which they marked with a cedar stake, the grave had been opened and disturbed. There was a reburial. During a Missouri River flood in 1857, the grave was opened once again when a part of the bluff collapsed into the water below.
I mentioned enjoying Sioux City - Sioux City has the longest and richest history of any community through all our region. The streets of Sioux City were platted in 1854 when most of our area still was wilderness. By 1856, steamboats were climbing the Missouri River from St. Louis to Sioux City.
But -
A drive to Sioux City is not all history. Shortly after we cross the Iowa line, driving from Worthington, we now may roll on the all-new, four-lane Highway 60. Traffic no longer wends along the trail through Ashton, Sheldon, Hastings, etc.

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