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This past August, we ran a feature on the tiny cemetery at the southeast corner of Kessler Boulevard and Keystone Avenue. Its purpose and origins had been something that had intrigued me for ages, though I never acted upon the impulse to pop out of the car and take a peek until this year. Judging by the response, I wasn’t the only one curious about how such a tiny but well groomed grave ended up next to such a highly trafficked intersection. However, as is sometimes the case when one goes trudging through the history of other peoples families, there are other sides to stories, perhaps more factual sides.

One of the main sources for August’s feature was an 1998 Indianapolis Star article by reporter Bill Shaw titled “Last Rights” where Shaw travels to Kokomo to interview then 81 year-old Dorothea Woods Sargent, the driving force behind the marker in question. Dorothea married John Jacob Sargent after his first wife, Henrietta, passed in 1972. While the two were married, John told her of an ancestor of his that fought in the American Revolution. From the Shaw’s article:

While she was living on Sargent Road with John Sargent, he told her about his ancestor’s graveyard at Kessler and Keystone. It was a weedy vacant lot, and this offended Dorothea. The dead should be honored, she believed, setting forth on a mission to correct an injustice.

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It’s around here that the story gets a little convoluted. As the story goes, Dorothea raised $3400 from “fellow” members of the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1984 to erect the memorial. There is a headstone and military marker for Robert Dickerson and family, a marker for her husband John, who passed in 1991, and a plaque.Bacon.4-610x299

According to two granddaughters of John’s older brother Walter Sargent, this plaque is almost entirely a fiction. While the first two sentences are true, the link between the missionary John Sargeant of Norman Rockwell fame and the Sargents of Indianapolis is not. The family says there is no evidence that he’s remotely related to John Jacob. For the record, Bill Shaw never links the two in his article, though states that Dorothea mentions it as she drifted from story to story.

Rockwell's unfinished homage to the missionary Sargeant, alas not linked to Indianapolis' history.

Rockwell’s unfinished homage to the missionary Sargeant, alas not linked to Indianapolis’ history.

While Sargent Road is in fact named for the family and Walter Sargent’s farmhouse still stands at 9565 East 82nd Street, there is no Sargent Stream and the only thing remotely resembling an airport was a bumpy, dirt landing strip near the farmhouse, long since developed.

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Walter Sargent’s farmhouse stands surrounded by modern development on the northeast side.

Earlier, I mentioned Dorothea raising money from “fellow” Daughters of the American Revolution members. There’s a bit of discrepancy there on two counts as well. Though by accounts, Dorothea very much wanted to join the DAR, as with many of life’s exclusive groups, one must be born into it, not marry into it. She was disappointed to find this to be the case and further disappointed to raise no money at all from the DAR for the monument. What is there now was funded by she and John (who was reportedly not thrilled with the expenditure) and Washington Township, with a small sum tossed in by a distant Dickerson decedent. From Walter Sargent’s grand-daughter Phillis Jo Dean:

The DAR connection is nothing more than a tremendous desire that Dorothea had, to be a member of the DAR. After she did the research to find proof of Robert Dickerson’s Revolutionary War service, she the learned that the DAR connection must be through lineage and not marriage. She was deeply dissapointed and informed me of her disappointment in 1974 when I was visiting Uncle John (Jacob). The strange thing about researching Dickerson is why she did not soon discover the other GGGreat grandfather on the maternal Sargent side, Jacob Ringer, who is buried at Ebenezer Cemetery (now a part of Fall Creek Union Cemetery)  and has a Veteran’s headstone describing his service.

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Jacob Ringer’s marker in the Ebenezer Cemetery

Finally, though the marker at Kessler and Keystone may lend one to believe that it is the final resting place of John Jacob, he, his first wife Henrietta and Dorothea are all buried in Fishers, on the other side of Oaklawn Memorial Gardens from fellow RWAV feature Francis Farmer.

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History is a delicate thing. A woven web of stories, hearsay and memory. Sometimes a few nuggets of fiction get sorted into the mix of facts and they become permanently intertwined, gaining credibility with each retelling. A quick thank you to the family members who reached out to make this site that much more accurate and I’ll try to remember in the future that just because there is a plaque, doesn’t necessarily make it so.

8 responses to “Return to the Mysterious Tombstones at Kessler and Keystone”

  1. Kevin J. Brewer says:

    Ryan, is anybody really buried in this plot and, if not, why is it allowed to exist?

  2. Phyllis Jo Dean says:

    Ryan,

    Thank you so much for correcting the information on the Mystery of the Tombstones on Kessler and Keystone that involved my family, the Sargents. I am especially pleased to know that instead of just taking my word for it you went out to the “real” tombstones of John Jacob Sargent, his first wife Henrietta, second wife, Dorothea, and the tombstone of John Jacob Ringer who is a known relative who fought in the Revolutionary War. A current picture of the the old Walter Sargent house along with clearing up the misleading information about certain Sargent “facts” are certainly appreciated. Thank you for your good research and reporting. As with so many founding families of America, the Sargents were hard working decent people, basically humble, quiet, and kind and I am glad to know that this little bit of history about them is as correct as we can ascertain at this time.

  3. Ryan Hamlett says:

    There is reason to believe that Dickenson is buried in this corner. It was once a part of the Bacon Cemetery, one of a few in the area that were forgotten and over taken by the expansion of both Keystone and Kessler.
    Perhaps a better question is why the plaque is allowed to be there given that it is filled with so many errors. For that, I do not have an answer for you.

  4. Rebecca Bandy says:

    I lived in the vicinity of the Kessler/Keystone area marker site. I remember the area as being overgrown weeds…then I remember the tombstone being erected. I never knew the true story till now. I am a DAR member and have researched many, many men with possible connections to the American Revolution. It is easier today to research your family history than it was back in the day of hand written letters and trudging to courthouses and cemeteries. It’s a very additive hobby with never ending questions !

    Thank you for the lovely story.

  5. Lynne Sargent Helm says:

    Hi Ryan — What a wonderful (and timely ) year-end update on the mystery tombstones at Kessler & Keystone.

    I certainly appreciate the effort you have gone to in sorting out fact from fantasy stemming largely from tales once told by an unreliable source and apparently bought hook, line and sinker by the Star, which should have known better.

    The photograph you’ve added of my grandfather Walter Sargent’s farmhouse, across the road from where his younger brother John Sargent once kept his airplane is particularly appreciated. I had not seen the residence since 2010 and while it looked quite nice then, the fresh stylish paint job is a particular delight to view.

    Your painstaking renewed research has no doubt been quite time consuming, but the worthy results are a base you can feel confident with as you expand your research of Indianapolis sites. Again, thank you. f

  6. Carol Elrod says:

    When I was growing up, we lived at 6102 North Olney Street, and we kids were very familiar with that intersection because we rode our bikes there and played in woods and vacant lots. At that time, there were tombstones in the woods just east of School 59 – on the opposite side of the street from the Dickerson memorial.

    Keystone was a two-lane road when I was a child, and Hedlunds was a tiny, frame corner grocery. I picked blackberries where the Glendale Mall now stands.

  7. Michael Gross says:

    Are you the Carol Elrod who lived with husband Ed on 58th Street near Tacoma? My family lived next door (on the corner) until 1961. Ed helped me prepare for a debate and got our go kart running in the back yard.

  8. Anonymous says:

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