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John F. Dillon Designed His Own Tombstone

Blog post by Randi Richardson

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Shortly after the death of his wife in Dubois County in 1904, John F. Dillon created this elaborate tombstone in miniature and had it later built in full scale at Vermont.  It is among the most intricately carved and unique tombstones at Rose Hill.

It isn’t often that one designs their own tombstone or the designer of a tombstone is even known.  And it isn’t often that one tombstone stands about among many others in a given cemetery.  For those reasons the tombstones of John F. Dillon and the Dillon family at Rose Hill Cemetery are exceptional.

John F. Dillon was born in Dubois County, Indiana, in 1852 to Matthew Brickhouse and Mary (Stewart) Dillon. [1]  By 1870, his father was a dry goods merchant and a relatively rich man. He owned real estate and personal property with a joint value of more than $22,000, well over $700,000 in today’s valuation.  Eighteen-year-old John was a clerk working in his father’s store.

A year later, in 1871, Matthew purchased the former 2-story, brick home of Paris Dunning on West Third Street in Bloomington.[2]  Soon afterward he moved his family, including seven children, to Monroe County that they might have more educational options.   John took advantage of the opportunity to attend Law School at Indiana University and completed his degree in 1874.[3]

Sometime following graduation, John F. Dillon, together with his family, left Bloomington to practice law in Pierre, South Dakota.[4]  As often as time and finances permitted, he returned to Bloomington to visit his family.   It is not certain whether or not he was in Bloomington when his mother died May 1891 or at the death of his father about two months later.[5],[6]   Wherever he was, these two deaths appeared to have affected him deeply.

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Matthew Dillon, his wife and two other Dillon family members are noted on this one very large tombstone at Rose Hill.

He began studying various tombstone designs that might be used to create a monument to mark the final resting place of his family.  More than 500 designs were inspected.  While at the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, he finally found a design that, with slight changes, suited him.

After careful research, the contract for work on the monument was submitted to Kelle & Dillard of Washington, Indiana.  In the early summer of 1895, the work was complete.  When it was placed in position on the Dillon lot in Rose Hill Cemetery, it was considered one of the most beautiful monuments in Indiana.  The base of the monument was seven feet long, five feet wide and one foot, six inches high.  The height of the monument was seven feet and six inches.   The weight was said to be 20 tons.[7]

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The reverse side of the tombstone for J. F. Dillon and wife is nearly as unique at the front side.

By the late 1890s, John left his law practice in South Dakota and returned with his wife, Emma, to their native home in Dubois County, Indiana.  It was there that Emma died in January 1904 at the relatively young age of 51.[8]  John had her remains brought to Bloomington for burial in Rose Hill.  And once again his thoughts turned to the design of a monument that might illustrate his love of Emma and how devastated he was by her loss.

A year and a half later, in July 1905, John’s newest design had been carved in miniature by a Bloomington marble and granite shop and sent to a quarry in Vermont for completion.  When finished, it would be seven feet tall, weighed 32,000 pounds and was close in size to the monument designed for his parents.  But unlike the column-cornered, sarcophagus design  selected for Matthew and Mary Dillon, the front side of the monument for Emma and himself, as shown above, depicted the remnants of a broken home with a scroll between two columns on which was carved their name and date of their death.  On the reverse side was an arch with gates ajar to show a heavenly mansion.[9]

Following the death of his wife, John returned to his home in Portersville, Dubois County.  He was living there in 1920 and working as a farmer, but at some point between then and his death on June 3, 1927, he returned to Bloomington.  His home was at the corner of Jackson and Third.  According to his death record, he was 74 years of age at the time of his death and a widow.[10]

 

[1] John F. Dillon, Death Record, Monroe County (IN) Dept. of Health, Bloomington, IN.  Available online at Ancestry.

[2] Monroe County, Indiana, Deed Book 1, p. 498, Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, IN.

[3] Indiana University Annual Catalogue for the Academic Year 1887-1888 (Indianapolis IN:  Wm. B. Burford Contractor State Printing), 1888, p. 88.

[4] Bloomington (IN) Telephone, November 19, 1889, p. 1.

[5] Bloomington (IN) Progress, May 27, 1891, p. 2.

[6] Bloomington (IN) Weekly Courier, July 10, 1891, p. 5.

[7] Bloomington (IN) Courier, June 4, 1895, p. 1.

[8] Emma S. Dillon, Death Record, Dubois County (IN), Dept. of Health.  Available online at Ancestry.

[9] Bloomington (IN) Telephone, July 4, 1905, p. 1.

[10] John F. Dillon, Death Record

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