Iowa’s Seventh Governor Not Alone in Century-Old Tomb

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- An Iowa history buff got quite a surprise, two actually.

The first surprise: his devotion to repair a neglected piece of Iowa history just received the money it needs. The second surprise: his work also uncovered there was someone else buried in the damaged mausoleum.


(Jonas Cutler, project director from Patriot Outreach, unveils surprise finding of governor's wife. Photo: Dave Price, WHO-HD.)

"Samuel Merrill was not alone," Jonas Cutler, Project Director for Patriot Outreach, said Monday morning.

Merrill served as Iowa's seventh governor from 1868-1872, after a time as a Union army soldier and state legislator.

Cutler said state records had shown Merrill was the only person entombed in a mausoleum in Des Moines' Woodland Cemetery. But Cutler said that after another history buff from California inquired on the whereabouts of Merrill's wife, Elizabeth, he decided to check out the mausoleum. Much to his surprise, he found a second body.

"Elizabeth was in there with him," Cutler said, "We're going to correct a historical record."

Gov. Terry Branstad, a history lover himself, announced that his new foundation, the Iowa History Fund, will make its first official contribution by giving $6,500 to the project to restore the Merrills' grave site.


(Former Iowa Governor Samuel Merrill. Photo: Dave Price, WHO-HD.)

Proceeds from Branstad's book, "Iowa's Record Setting Governor, The Terry Branstad Story," go to the fund, along with private donations.

Branstad said the fund contains $194,000. His staff estimates people have bought more than 3,000 copies of his book so far.

Channel 13's Andy Fales followed Cutler's efforts to get the damaged mausoleum restored. Here's his story.