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Cemetery’s QR codes bring the people’s stories to life

By Stacey Horst

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    DES MOINES, Iowa (KCCI) — Technology is bringing Des Moines history alive.

Each headstone in a cemetery represents a life and a story. Sadly, many of those stories are being lost in time. But there’s something new popping up in Des Moines’ Woodland Cemetery that’s bringing those stories back to life.

Modern-day QR codes dot dozens of historic grave sites all across Woodland Cemetery telling the stories of some of Des Moines’ earliest residents.

“I got really taken by how early pioneers of Des Moines really did reflect world history,” said Kristen Bartley.

Bartley was the creator of the mobile history tour.

“What I thought was going to be a project with maybe 35 to 40 stories became 71 stories,” Bartley said.

Bartley created short videos using stories collected over the years by Iowa historians Archie Cook and Mike Rowley, and well-documented stories from descendants of people buried in Woodland.

“Not just about the more well-known names here in Des Moines, but about people you don’t know so much,” Bartley said.

Like Preston Jackson, a Black man born into the slave state of Kentucky. He was a veteran of the Mexican-American war and the Civil War.

Delia Ann Webster was imprisoned in Kentucky because she was helping enslaved people escape.

“When she got out of prison, she came and helped establish the underground railroad here in the state of Iowa,” Bartley said.

Charles Nourse was Iowa’s third attorney general.

“He was a young lawyer who came from Kentucky and began practicing law here and helped establish what is ultimately our legal system,” said Mark Sherinian, a relative.

Nourse was also a delegate to the 1860 Republican National Convention.

“That was the convention that nominated Lincoln,” Sherinian said.

Thousands of people are buried in Woodland Cemetery. Bartley said her passion project has barely scratched the surface.

“Knowing some of the history it’s like… this needs to happen,” Bartley said. “People need to know these stories.”

Sherinian agrees and said it’s important to remember where we come from.

“I’ve always said we stand on the shoulders of giants… and we need to remember who those giants are,” Sherinian said.

It was funded by the Iowa Arts Council and Friends of Des Moines Parks.

Bartley is working to secure more funding to continue the project because there are thousands of more stories to be told. You can watch some of the videos on the Des Moines Parks and Rec YouTube page.

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