Van Fossen Cemetery

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Since the 1850’s, the Van Fossen cemetery has had many names, from Rodenbaugh Cemetery, the Old Adel Cemetery, to the “official” name recorded by the state, the Gibson Cemetery. Along old highway 6, the cemetery is sometimes just called the Bilderback Cemetery, after the massive headstones that mark the graves of two of the town’s founders.

The cemetery is hidden, with no gravel path marking the access and even the sign hidden among over grown trees. But away from the road and behind the brush, with an honest to goodness large pumpkin patch growing on the farm next to the cemetery; you’ll find the graves are well manicured and clean, even if most are long forgotten. A handful of the stones may show a solitary flag marking a veteran, or slowly decaying flowers left after a quick visit for a long dead ancestor.

Thirty years ago when times were different, the graveyard had become a hangout for teenagers with typical teen irreverence, damaged some stones and committed acts that should never occur among graves. The local police began patrolling and trying to chase the teens off, but teens will be teens, and they would run to the woods and trickle back after the flashing lights had gone home to bed.

As remembered by some of the residents of Adel, the carousing among the graves ended after May 11, 1983. A group of teens including an Iowa State astronomy freshman had gone to the park to watch comet IRAS make it’s closest approach to the Earth. After carousing in the dark for a few hours, they began to notice the night was unusually quiet. No crickets, no owls, no noise. Then under the stars and the glow of that strange, cloud-like comet, they noticed tiny sparks of blue light dancing on top of the two massive Bilderback graves. At first they thought it was a trick of the starlight, but the flecks became bigger and brighter until they looked like dim flashlights jumping around on top and between the stones. After that the teens simply took off. Whether the lights were ball-lighting on a clear night, will-o-wisps, or just a bad case of too much Thunderbird, the cemetery got a reputation that kept the teens away after that night.

Regardless of local legend or what really happened as that comet reached the closest approach to the Earth, the old Van Fossen Cemetery has an ambiance rarely found in Iowa.

(Submitted by Zedition)

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Geographic Information

22050 Old Highway 6
Adel, Iowa
United States

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41.61068939059174, -94.04684203858778
Dallas County, Iowa
Nearest Towns:
Adel, IA (1.5 mi.)
De Soto, IA (5.8 mi.)
Dallas Center, IA (6.8 mi.)
Van Meter, IA (7.3 mi.)
Redfield, IA (7.8 mi.)
Waukee, IA (8.3 mi.)
Earlham, IA (9.1 mi.)
Minburn, IA (10.1 mi.)
Dexter, IA (11.3 mi.)
Linden, IA (11.7 mi.)


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