If you were to stroll the atmospheric Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois, you’d likely happen upon the weathered headstones of siblings Eddie and Josie Dimick, which are guarded by a life-sized statue of a dog.
The children died on the same day in 1878, and their family’s descendants left Rock Island long ago. Still, strangers routinely place flowers on their headstones, photograph the family monument, and sweep away tears when they learn the story behind the arched granite epitaph and the likeness of a dog beside it that is carved out of stone.
In the autumn of 1878, a diphtheria epidemic swept through Rock Island, Illinois, a community on the banks of the Mississippi River. The brutal illness swiftly claimed the lives of many in this Midwestern town, including five-year-old Eddie and eight-year-old Josie, on October 22, 1878. It is said that they went to school together on Thursday, became ill on Friday, and died the following Tuesday evening.
More than 130 years later, the children’s tragic deaths might have been forgotten if it were not for the loyalty of their beloved Newfoundland dog. The gentle giant was reportedly so grief-stricken by the children’s deaths that he daily followed the parents’ carriage to the nearby cemetery, where he lay on the graves from dawn to dusk. The cemetery was just under a mile (1 km) from the children’s family home.
According to newspaper articles from the nineteenth-century (note: see clippings below), the animal made this daily commute for nearly two years. After the dog’s death, Eddie and Josie’s parents, Otis and Harriet Dimick, wished to bury the loyal pet besides their children’s headstones. As cemetery policy prohibited this practice, they instead commissioned a Chicago artist to sculpt a life-sized statue of the dog, complete with swirly hair and mournful eyes. This likeness was then placed beside the Dimick children’s tiny headstones.
I first learned of this poignant tale in 1988 when, at the age of eleven, I moved into the brick home that Eddie and Josie had inhabited more than a century before me. I had visions of discovered artifacts hidden beneath the creaky attic floorboards. I wanted desperately to unearth treasures in the soil of the rolling hillsides in the home’s expansive yard. Little did I know at the time, however, that the greatest pleasure would come not from antique material objects, but from researching the home’s inhabitants, something that I did with my mother. After scanning rolls of microfiche and faded pages of history books at the library, we were better able to piece together the lives of the Dimick children and their companion dog, whose story continues to touch passersby, more than a century later.
I’ve heard several heartwarming tales about loyal pets, with the Scottish Greyfriars Bobby coming to mind. Do you have any anecdotes to tell from your region, or perhaps a story about your own family’s devoted companion?
Where in the World?
- The Dimick family plot is located in the historic Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois. This Chippiannock Cemetery map shows the location of the Dimick family grave. It also highlights the graves of other notable people buried in this historic cemetery, which was established in the 1850s. But the area’s history goes back much farther. Before the cemetery was established, a significant number of Native Americans lived in this area, in a village called Saukenuk. Chippiannock is actually a Native American word meaning “Village of the Dead.”
- The Dimick family constructed an Italianate-style home in the countryside in 1872, and this is where Eddie, Josie, and the family dog lived and died. The city of Rock Island has since expanded, so the home is no longer in the countryside. The home is listed as a Rock Island Landmark, thanks to its architecture and the notable families who lived there throughout the years.
- I lived in the Dimick Home between 1988 and 2001, and my mother and I researched the home’s history. Despite hours of research, we were unable to discover the dog’s real name. We suspect that the family pet was buried somewhere on the home’s property.
- Years ago, Chippiannock Cemetery hosted a reenactment event called “Epitaphs Brought to Life.” A local English teacher and history enthusiast wrote the script for this event, and actors portrayed famous local people who were buried in the cemetery. The Dimick children were two featured “characters,” and a real-life Newfoundland dog even sat beside the children as they performed. The author of the script took a bit of artistic liberty and referred to the dog as Rex. However, to my knowledge, no local historians have ever been able to determine the real name of the dog.
- As my parents have now relocated to Germany, their beloved home is now for sale. If you know of anyone looking for a home with a plethora of wonderful stories, please feel free to get in touch.
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Photography & text © Tricia A. Mitchell. All Rights Reserved.