There are so many notable burials in Oak Hill Cemetery that American journalist and politician William Allen White proclaimed it the “Arlington of the West”. Along with state officials, soldiers, and prominent townsmen and women, there are burials of infants and children in the cemetery. Many of these burials reflect a time when antibiotics and immunizations were not readily available. But it was one burial belonging to a child who did not live long enough to become notable who inspired Shannon Hodges to start the group, Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery (FOOH).
In a former FOHC newsletter, Shannon wrote,
“In my regular walks in the Spring of 2017, a small monument at the southeast corner of section 2 always caught my eye. On the headstone read, “Little Charlie is Sleeping. Feb. 7, 1875 – Nov 2, 1877”. The epitaph was so simple, yet tender and beautiful. I could not pass it without acknowledging little Charlie and how much his parents must have loved and mourned him.”– Shannon Hodges
Later in the spring season, Shannon discovered little Charlie’s headstone was damaged and in pieces on the ground. It is not known what caused the damage to the stone. As a mother, Shannon was moved to take action by establishing the grassroots organization called Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery, whose mission was advocating for historic Oak Hill Cemetery. Today, this organization is called the Oak Hill Cemetery Program Committee and is a standing committee of the Douglas County Historical Society Board of Directors.
Little Charlie’s headstone belonged to a young boy named Charlie Leis. The Leis family was among the earliest settlers in Lawrence. The family’s patriarch, Henry Leis, was a well-known printer for The Herald of Freedom. He died less than two years after Charlie died, leaving his wife Ruth to raise an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old. She was a sewing teacher for the local Industrial School and was known for her philanthropy in the community. The family plot is in Section 2, lot 36 of Oak Hill Cemetery.
Little Charlie’s headstone remained on the ground and sustained more damage until it was conserved in the fall of 2022 by Pacific Coast Conservation as part of a conservation project funded by the Douglas County Heritage Council, Friends of Oak Hill Cemetery, and the City of Lawrence, KS.
Blog and research contributed by Denise Pettengill, Leslie Beesly, and Shannon Hodges.