Advance’s Best-Kept Secret

On Memorial Day weekend, it’s appropriate to recognize salute the men and women who have served in our armed services to keep us free.

Advance has a Military Memorial in Maberry Park on the town square that lists Advance residents who made the ultimate sacrifice for us.

Advance Military Memorial

Advance High School sophomore Kathy Jenkins wrote these words which were engraved on a stone tablet in the park: “We salute the men and women who served in the armed forces. Their nationalism and loyalty gave us love and patriotism for our country. Our memory of their bravery will be everlasting.”

The memorial is a nice tribute, but that’s not what fascinates me about the park.

This tree probably knows the secret

This tree overlooking Maberry Park may know the real story of the town square. I mentioned in a story about the Advance train depot that Advance was founded when Louis Houck balked at paying $30 an acre for a depot in Lakeville. He instructed his civil engineer, Major James Francis Brooks, to “advance” about a mile west near a stand of mulberry trees and lay out a new town where he could buy the land for $10 an acre. That’s where the town’s name, Advance, came from.

Mayberry family cemetery

The land was originally owned by Joshua Maberry, and his family cemetery was located right in the middle of what was going to become the town. According to the sale agreement, the cemetery was supposed to be “forever maintained.”

Tombstones disappeared overnight

This aerial taken last fall shows the square where the Maberry cemetery was located. The stones you see aren’t tombstones, they are the Advance Military Memorial markers.

Sometime in the 1920s, all of the tombstones disappeared from the cemetery in the middle of the night. The graves are all still there, but any visible trappings of a graveyard vanished. Poof.

No one in town claimed any knowledge of what happened to the stones. Thomza Zimmerman, long-time family friend and editor of The Advance Advocate, said the theft was attributed to a women’s group which concerned itself with the “beautification of the city.”

In Advance, Missouri, A Look at the First Hundred Years, she wrote, “By that time (1920), the first and second generations of Maberrys were gone and any heirs who remained had moved away, but they (the Mayberrys) still owned the cemetery. When W.H. Whitwell and his wife, Mary Jane, bought the estate of Joshua Maberry in 1879, the deed reserved one acre of ground, ‘used as a graveyard.’

“Be that as it may, on a certain summer night, in the early 1920s, all of the gravestones disappeared. No one knew where they went or how they went. Many people wondered, but few asked.”

Sign adds insult to injury

Mother and my Grandmother were about as connected as you could get in a small town, but they always claimed they had never heard who was responsible for the tombstone thefts, and I’ve never heard any of the oldtimers fess up. It has to be the town’s best-kept secret.

I had never looked closely at this photo I shot in the fall of 2001. Not only did all of the tombstones disappear, but whoever put up this sign in the square labeled it “MABFRY PARK,” not Maberry Park, after the original family.

I’ll have to check to see if the sign has been corrected.

17 Replies to “Advance’s Best-Kept Secret”

  1. Don’t know if it’s true but I had heard from a few of the old timers (people who lived in Advance in the 20’s) including my grandmother, great grandmother, greatuncle etc. that most of the stones wound up in the Diversion channel. I do know that there were still some small head stones there in the 60’s they were on the south side & know one seems to know what happened to them. I’ve also heard that some of the remains were also dumped in the channel & that some are still in the park. It was said to have been a big deal. I don’t know the the truth of who was responsible. only what I’ve been told so I will refrain from mentioning names. Since pretty much everyone involved is dead & there was never a paper trail I guess we’ll never know.

  2. When our daughter Kathy wrote those words almost twenty years ago, we had no idea how deeply she would understand the inscription. Ironically while in college she met a boy, now Major Kirkman, who has served eleven years including four duties in Iraq. He and Kathy celebrated their 11th wedding anniversary this weekend with their three children. Now we all understand much more clearly the sacrifices made not only by our service men and women but also those made by their families and all who love them. May our memories be everlasting. May we never forget what they have given.

  3. I was told by my Mother that the Original name was Mabry not Mayberry. At one time there was a question of the spelling of the name

    I remember seeing headstones used as steps behind Gambles,Hammocks grocery and Richmonds hardware.

  4. Actually, the descendants of the Mabreys contacted current Mayor Carl “Pete” Ritter and negotiated a deal whereby they furnished a beautiful, historically accurate stone to replace the HORRID mispelled and broken monstrosity you see in the photo. It was “christened” with a small ceremony last year.
    As to the mysterious date of the stones’ disappearance, you are correct that the culprits are all dead and in graves of their own. Stories continue to circulate about their identity, and, as a journalist, I would not touch that subject with a 10-foot pole!
    As to the rumored location of the stones, the Diversion Channel is the most often given location, but I have also been told that some were taken to Pleasant Hill Cemetery at Tillman. That’s in my territory, and I have looked in vain for them.
    I have NEVER heard that any of the bodies were moved! That is so much balderdash and stuff of silly ghost stories. NO ONE would do that!
    My opinion is this: The park is a beautiful memorial for both those who lie in the old graves and those whose names are carved on the stones–the men we honored today at our 20th annual veteran’s day service. The park is beautifully-maintained these days, unlike the times when it grew up in weeds. The citizens of Advance treasure it.
    Today’s park is much more green and colorful than it was in your photos, Ken. You have to see it with the summer flowers to appreciate it, all decked out in red, white and blue flags.
    The mystery will remain forever, but the park is a beautiful place of tribute to the fallen!

  5. I grew up in Advance and have fond memories of this park. As a teenager one summer I worked for the City of Advance and spent many hours in this park tending to the grass and planting and weeding flowers. I also remember when it was the site of the Labor Day picnic when I was a kid. It holds many good memories and hope it is maintained in years to come.

  6. I also recall the tombstone steps in the alley.
    Willis Whitwell was my G.G grandfather. The title abstract is great reading as it deals with heirs for the property. Currently it is misplaced, among so much other “stuff” in my attic.
    My father was postmaster until ’64 and told me his father Willis Revelle, an Advance rural mail carrier at the time, said the tombstones were dumped in Castor River, carried there by several horse-drawn wagons on the fateful night. I somewhere heard that my g. grandfather, Randolph Revelle (married to daughter of Willis Whitwell), was strongly in favor of clearing the cemetery, as were many merchants, because it lent a morbid flavor to the downtown, sort of like the Cape merchants who moved the Mississippi crossing place on the Trail of Tears route of the “removed” Cherokees, further north of town because the depressing nature of the travelers through downtown was bad for business.
    When I was around 14 years Advance held a July 4th celebration in Mayberry Park. In the NW corner, while digging two post holes for a large sign, they dug up what looked like finger bones and a wedding ring. I was hanging out nearby as the dunking tank was being set up and witnessed this discovery. I think Paul Corbin was one of the diggers.
    I wonder whether a written grave inventory was ever made of the cemetery?
    At Cruise Cemetery, the beautiful cast iron fence around my g. grandfather Randolph Revelle’s grave plot also disappeared some years ago. Can’t understand how that could have offended the other residents. Someone in the area is being haunted by
    I’ll be in Sikeston on Sept 24 visiting my sister, Laurel Revelle Carr and would enjoy talking about anyone about Advance. I’m currently researching the “Cherokee” connection to the Revelle family for the next novel and will be hanging around for a couple days. Email

  7. I am the great great great granddaughter of Joshua and Sarah Mabery. I have been to Advance and researched our family history there. I was the person that spoke with Mayor Carl Ritter regarding honoring our family graveyard. I agree with Madeline DeJournett regarding the beauty of the park that all can enjoy. It was a wrong which was righted in the best possible way for all concerned. Most of Joshua’s children including my gg grandfather Jessie Bird Mabery are buried in the park.

  8. My grandfather, Frank Farrar, told me the same basic story as Thomza. No doubt it was the topic of much speculation, and Salty (Thomza’s husband) was my grandfather’s first cousin. When I would ask what happened to the tombstones, Grandad claimed they disappeared overnight and no one ever knew what happened to them and they were never found. He claimed a group of women in town wanted to beautify Advance and they were behind the removale of the tombstones. He said some people thought they were thrown in the Big Ditch or the Block Hole, but he always thought they were put on a rail car & shipped out of town. When I asked why anyone would want used tombstones, he said they could be sanded down & reused. Seemed a little far fetched to me, that anyone would want used tombstones, but just as good a story as any I suppose.

  9. As a current resident of the town, I heard this story and was hard pressed to believe it. I’m glad I found this web site. Yes, it’s nice to have the monuments that are currently there honoring those who served the country but it would also be nice if they would place a marker honoring as many of the original family as possible also. Their history is the town’s history. And all those merchants (if this is true) who wanted the morbid graveyard removed are long gone and well as their shops (which has been replaced ironically by a health care center). The downtown unfortunately is also dead now, moved to the side of Highway C like all little towns living in a Wal-Mart society. I always thought Southern people were attached to the places where the dead rested and tried to honor and care for them. So sad.

  10. History is ALMOST always written (or omitted) by the Victors. In this case those who removed the stones. I also remember seeing partial remnants of the stones as a kid in the 60’s. And yes, they were “Spread around town” for various uses.

    The real truth will I am sure never be known, but as was written, it is fitting that it is now a memorial, and can be thought as Memorializing those unknown buried there so many years ago.

  11. At that time, part of the lettering had fallen off, and was not maintained well. I was a young child at the time, my father still owned a small shop across from it named A-1 Unique. He sold flowers and tanning sessions. That is his car in your picture ❤️ Now, Phelps-In-Home-Care is established in the same building he rented for his shop, which he then worked for for 17 years after he closed his shop. Great memories and love there. My dad passed away almost a year ago and this was a pleasant surprise to see his old car captured in someone else’s memories.

  12. I think there is a deed on record in the Recorder of Deeds Office in Bloomfield, MO., regarding sthe Cemetery (Mayberry Park). If there is, it can be located if any one wants to spend the time searching for it.

    1. I’ll have to put it on my to-do list. It’s been called Maberry Cemetery (after the family who owned the land), Mayberry Cemetery, and (in a sign on the square) Mabfry Park. Spelling must be optional in Advance.

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