Cresson Cemetery may be smaller than most, but the unique stories of its inhabitants paint a much larger picture of the rich history buried there.
Spread over seven acres, Cresson Cemetery houses 885 graves – 111 of which were military veterans, representing 12% of the cemetery, including:
⦁ 12 Civil War veterans
⦁ A veteran of the Spanish-American War
⦁ 13 veterans of the First World War (WWI)
⦁ 54 World War II (WWII) veterans
⦁ Nine Vietnam veterans
⦁ 14 military veterans
Four veterans also served in more than one war.
“One of them fought in World War II, got out and went to the Korean War, which was not unusual because it was only four years between World War II and Korea , but he also fought in Vietnam, which was much later,” said Don Holt, Cresson Cemetery Association Veterans Treasurer – Charles William Fidler, Army, WWII; Frank O. Fidler, Army, World War I; Jackson (Jack) Henry Fidler, World War II; Tec 5 Calvin Clark, Jr. Fidler, Army, WWII; and William (Bill) Fidler, Army, World War II.
James Elam, a boy scout from Texas, is the only cemetery veteran to have a fence around his grave.
“The Texas scouts were men who were hired by the Confederacy to stay here in the area to protect the women when the men left for the Civil War,” said Holt, who has volunteered at the cemetery for 35 years. “I think there were like 20 guys who were scouts from Texas who were here to protect the people of the Union. In 1865 the Union Army had moved to the other side of Abilene so there were no Indians here as far as I understand from the history I read about her. After the war, the confederation granted him veteran status, and therefore he is a veteran.
“Someone said, ‘Well, why was he privileged to have a fence?’ And I said, ‘I don’t know. It was before my time,’ said Don’s wife, Karon, secretary of the Cresson Cemetery Association.
Joe G. Jr. and Charlotte J. Huffman got married and met while in the Navy, as they were both firefighters.
Joe died in 2015 and received a huge funeral service complete with a piper and 40 fire engines.
“In the middle of the service, here are all these firefighters in their outfits, and all of a sudden all of their microphones went off,” Don said. “The fire department has a nice thing called ‘The Last Call’ and it’s the last call or when they call that particular firefighter and they’ve called their number three times and then they say, ‘Transferred to a permanent position.” CareFlite flew three helicopters in training.
One of the most beautiful tombstones in the cemetery is a statue of a large angel holding her baby, with the inscription “They were the sunshine of our house” at the bottom of the statue.
The mother, Stella V. Wilder, was born on April 29, 1893 and died on July 8, 1912 at just 19 years old. She married AW Wilder and together they had one child, Stella Dolores Wilder. Don assumes that the mother died of complications from childbirth, as she died just 10 days after giving birth. The baby died at just four months old, of an unknown cause.
The husband, AW Wilder, is not buried in the cemetery, but someone in the family had the beautiful life-size angel transported by boat from Italy.
Stella V.’s grandmother, Alice C. Crawford, was buried one space above her granddaughter. Don and Karon discovered in 2020 that Stella V.’s mother, Eva Christine Lyles, was buried between her and her grandmother.
“What is interesting about these four generations is that no male member of the family is buried in the cemetery and in the over 30 years that we have been going to the cemetery, we have never seen anyone lay any flowers on the graves,” Don said. “A sad story no doubt, but the beauty of this memorial is a true declaration of love and with that there is no better story.”
Two tombs in the cemetery of Cresson are famous for their “love story”.
“You may not realize it, but all cemeteries have some form of love story; just listen,” Don said.
In 1894, a young girl named Mary Loula Crook fell in love with Dr. William H. Jones. Although there was a 17-year age difference, the couple were soon to wed. However, Crook fell ill and Jones, a doctor, couldn’t do enough to save her. Crook died at the age of 17.
“Within a year he became an alcoholic and he literally grieved over his death, and within a year he was dead,” Don said. “The only thing he asked the family was if they could bury him on the Crook family grounds so he could be near her. Well, not only did they bury them side by side, but they gave them matching tombstones.
Cresson Cemetery is also famous for its appearance in a 1992 romance/western film, “Pure Country”, starring George Strait and Rory Calhoun.
“The truck set up right outside the door there, and they were filming right there by my mother’s grave. They had brought a headstone and put it there,” Don said. “It was a cloudy day, and they had two guys with big huge mirrors and every once in a while the guys would determine that they could spot enough light on this grave and so they would run over here and take a few minutes and then the the clouds would move in. This continues from about 9:30 a.m. that morning, and around two o’clock they came up to me and said, “Is there a place we can take the ladies in the toilets? I said, “The nearest toilets I can send you to would be Cresson’s toilets at the gas station.” Here are all these ladies about eight of them dressed in 1903 funeral dresses. I would have given anything to be there, taking pictures of the reactions of the inhabitants of Cresson.
The film crew also filmed right outside the ranch of Karon’s mother, who was able to have a long and pleasant chat with Rory Calhoun.
“My mother-in-law went to see this movie and she was over there at home and George Strait was trying to sing a song but he was trying to act like he was drunk. She’s standing there and this voice is coming from ‘ next to her and said, ‘I don’t think George Strait is going to do this song.’ And she turned around and it was Rory Calhoun the actor. He had walked right beside her in his bib and his jumpsuit because that was his role in the movie. He was a ranch foreman. He and she each had a ball,” Don said.
The headstone which was placed in Cresson Cemetery by the film crew remained there for five years until it was removed by a monument company because the Cresson Cemetery Association feared it would miss of plots.
“We’ve had more requests over the last four or five years about ‘Where’s that gravestone?’ I wish we had kicked him out the door,” Don said, recalling.
Cresson started the first cemetery north of town in 1885, on the right side of what is now Route 171. On May 5, 1885, a child Fidler was buried, which became the first known burial in the old cemetery.
Between the years 1885 to 1895, 14 additional graves were added to the old cemetery.
On July 1, 1895, Albert L. Crenshaw surrendered land for a new cemetery, selling four acres for $10. Also, that same year, 15 graves were moved from the old cemetery to the “new” cemetery of Cresson.
On July 20, 1996, Dr. WH Jones was reportedly buried in the cemetery’s first new grave.
In 1934, the Cresson Cemetery Association was formed on the steps of the Cresson school, a cemetery closing fund was organized and Victor Penuel – the director of the Cresson school – drew the first plan of the cemetery. A single tomb cost $1 at that time.
In 1956, the mesh fence was installed as well as the entrance gate.
The cemetery also at one time had a reputation of being almost a children’s cemetery, as there were a disproportionate number of children’s graves compared to adult graves during the early years of the measles. During this period, there were 43 infant graves under one year old and 30 graves between 1 and 10 years old.
The cemetery is currently operated by the Cresson Cemetery Association. If someone has a loved one buried in the cemetery, they are already considered a member. For more information, go to the Facebook page of the Cresson cemetery association.
Don added, “I came to the conclusion after all the research on Karon Cemetery and have done over the years that all cemeteries have a story to tell.”