The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

October 31, 2012

A tale of two dogs

Cemetery marker, tale of railroad dog are mysterious

By Katie Dahlstrom
Herald Staff Writer

CLINTON — People pamper their pets. For two Clinton dogs, that pampering lasted to the grave.  

“Our Pal John,” the four-legged friend of former Chicago and NorthWestern railroad workers, was buried near the old water tower off 11th Avenue South with an engraved head stone and “Belhus,” a master’s loyal companion, is memorialized by a curious monument to a canine in Springdale Cemetery.  

Beyond the anomalous nature of these two dogs’ final resting places, is the question of whether they were ever buried in their respective graves, if they remain where they were believed to be buried and if not, where their bodies eventually came to rest.  

A Clinton Herald article from 1968 calls John a “big shaggy dog with Collie characteristics.” 

According to the article, “Our Pal John” met every passenger train that arrived at the Chicago and NorthWestern depot for 10 years. How John arrived at the depot is a mystery, but from 1935 to 1945 he met as many as 27 trains a day. 

During his tenure John was privy to treats from the dining room and naps in the train depot, according to the article.

Joe Piersen, the Archives chairman of the Chicago and NorthWestern Historical Society, said he knew of the story of Our Pal John because it was printed in the employee magazine that began being printed in 1945 after World War II. 

However, Pierson didn’t know any more details of the legendary canine.  

“I don’t know why they were so fond of him, but I do know the story,” Piersen said.

When John died after 10 years of service to the railroad, the article states “the rails” took up a collection to give him a proper burial and erected a headstone that read “Our Pal John 1935-1945” just north of the water tower that previously occupied depot grounds.  

When dorms were slated to be constructed on John’s burial site in the late 1968, trainmen, engineers, callers and other railroad workers contacted Chicago and NorthWestern officials for permission to move the gravestone so it wouldn’t be damaged. 

The stone was to be moved back once the dorms were completed. As evidenced by the current landscape, the dorms were never completed and what became of “Our Pal John” remains a mystery.  

Members of the Clinton County Historical Society claimed the stone was sold to Banowetz Antiques in Maquoketa and then later purchased.

However, the owner of the antique mall for 43 years said he doesn’t recall ever coming across a gravestone engraved with words.

While the details of John’s end seem sparse, even less is known about the elaborate dog shaped gravestone in Springdale Cemetery, including the detail indicating if a dog rests beneath it.

Travelling along the main drive of the cemetery, a young mausoleum sits near the center of the cemetery. To the left of the mausoleum lies Belhus.

The stone grave depicts a dog, presumably named “Belhus” judging by the engraving, resting with its head up, surveying the surrounding area. While the top of the dog’s head is missing, the rest of Belhus remains intact. The dog rests his paws in front of his body which lays slightly on the right hip. His slender tail lays on the stone slab beneath him.

Darrel Mueller has been the caretaker at Springdale for the past 29 years. He said the stone statue has been there since he arrived, but he doesn’t know how old it is. He has only heard legend of how it came to be.

“The only story I’ve ever heard is that it was the owner and when he passed away the dog came up everyday.  When the dog passed away they made a statue for him,” Mueller said.   

 Belhus rests at the foot of the grave Mueller said he believes to be the former owner, Wilbur Burbank. According to online records of Springdale Cemetery, Wilbur Burbank died on April 21, 1893. However, no dates appear on either tombstone. The Clinton County Historical Society did not have any information on the peculiar grave.