William and Crystal Krosch faced unthinkable tragedy during their first years in Wisconsin. The joy at the birth of their daughter Ida Clara Krosch in February 1858 turned to dread and sadness just a few years later. Sick with diphtheria, little Ida died two days after Christmas 1861 at the family home in the town of Eagle in Waukesha County, Wisconsin.
Ida Krosch was laid to rest at Oak Grove Cemetery about a mile south of the village of Eagle. A 2-acre parcel carved out of the Kettle Moraine Forest, the cemetery was a scenic, peaceful place that no doubt brought some comfort to the family during visits to the little girl’s resting place. What shock they would feel if they witnessed what would become of the little country cemetery long after the family had moved to Minnesota.
What was going on in the world in December 1861? “It looks now as if we are to have good sleighing for Christmas, as several inches of snow fell during Sunday last,” wrote the Waukesha Freeman on Dec. 24, 1861. The newspapers were promoting a Waukesha visit by Gen. Tom Thumb, “America’s Man in Miniature” made famous by P.T. Barnum. And many local men were leaving their businesses to join Wisconsin troops in the Civil War.
The burial records of Oak Grove Cemetery are testament to the hardships of pioneer life in rural Waukesha County. It was common for families to lose young children to diseases such as diphtheria or typhoid fever. Ironically, an article run in the Waukesha Freeman the week Ida died wrongly predicted that diphtheria would be fatal in just one of 100 cases. Diphtheria would become the No. 1 killer of children in America during the coming decades.
The cemetery is replete with stories of the sadness of youth lost. James Lowry died at age 5 in 1858. Ada Severance died at age 4 in 1855. Arden Baldwin died at age 3 just months before Ida Krosch. Oscar Jaycox was just 1 when he died in 1858. Arthur Bigelow was 2 when he died in 1855. Orlando Cook was a mere 8 months old when he died in 1852.
Peter Grems, reported to be the first veterinarian in the Wisconsin Territory, is buried here. Charles Kilts, a bugler for Company K of the 1st Wisconsin Volunteers in the Civil War, is buried here, too. He died in September 1862.
No doubt the graves of these folks were tended to with care for many decades, but Oak Grove Cemetery has now become a sad monument of neglect and abandonment. Monuments have been toppled. Headstones lie in pieces. Many headstones are leaning badly. Grave sites are covered in thicket. Some have been swallowed by the encroaching forest. The wrought iron fence that separates the cemetery from nearby Highway 67 is rusty and listing. No doubt the families of these souls would be heartsick to see the state of this burial ground.
Ironically, Oak Grove Cemetery is just across the road from Old World Wisconsin, the world’s largest museum on the history of rural life. Old World Wisconsin is run by the Wisconsin Historical Society. Maybe if they included their neighboring cemetery on their tours this hallowed ground would not be in such deplorable shape.
For the most part, burials stopped at Oak Grove in 1967, 125 years after the cemetery was founded. We did find one interment at Oak Grove in 2007. Since the cemetery association that cared for the land disbanded long ago, upkeep of the cemetery falls to the local government. It appears the grass gets mowed, but that is no doubt where the maintenance stops.
Under Wisconsin law, circuit courts can compel local municipalities to care for abandoned cemeteries, or even order the reinterment of the deceased in new cemeteries. Given that Oak Grove is a pioneer cemetery with the remains of the founding families of Eagle, as well as many Civil War veterans, it is very sad that more pride is not taken in preserving it.
Little Ida Clara Krosch’s tombstone can no longer be found at Oak Grove Cemetery. Maybe that’s just as well. Her parents and their descendants would no doubt hang their heads in sadness and shame to see what became of little Oak Grove Cemetery.
John Frederick Krosch >> William F. Krosch >> Ida C. Krosch