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Masonic tombstone represents Cheever brothers’ lives cut short

The sloping hillside offering a spectacular view of the Mississippi River in Riverside Cemetery has long been the resting place for two brothers from Massachusetts who ventured west to settle in Hannibal, Mo. The stone is located just to the east of the Levering stone of the same era. MARY LOU MONTGOMERY


A tombstone in Riverside Cemetery, overlooking the mighty Mississippi River, represents the lives of two young Massachusetts brothers, who moved to Hannibal with eager anticipation during the midst of the war between the states.

During their years in Hannibal they conducted a drug store on Broadway, which offered promise of prosperity during the post-war years.

But their venture in Hannibal wouldn’t be long or prosperous for the two young men, each of who would die within the first decade and a half of their residency here.

Their names were Joseph A. and Arthur H. Cheever. Surviving sons of a master mariner lost at sea in 1858, their tombstone - a broken shaft - is an appropriate emblem for the third degree of Masonry, and also representative of two lives cut short before their prime. It was selected by Joseph for his younger brother, and a few years later, Joseph’s name was inscribed as well.

Sons of Massachusetts

The Cheever brothers, natives of Salem, Mass., saw great promise in Hannibal, the bustling Missouri town located on the western banks of the greatest of all North American rivers: the Mississippi.

In the early 1860s, Sam Clemens hadn’t yet penned his legendary novels of the two boys growing up here, but Hannibal was readily recognized at the time as prime for development by those who lived in New England and along the Atlantic shoreline.

The river was now open to commercial traffic on past Missouri’s northern boarder, and fledgling railroads were inching their way north and west of Hannibal, so the future appeared promising.

Back in Massachusetts, Joseph A. and Arthur H. Cheever had lost their mother, Ruth, prior to 1855. To to fill the void in his life and help raise his children, their father, Joseph Cheever, married Ruth’s sister, Mary L. Page.

The elder Mr. Cheever made his living on the sea, as a shipmaster and master mariner. In October 1858, the boys were left orphans when their father’s life was claimed by the sea where he earned his living.

Their aunt Mary became their guardian. But Joseph Cheever was already 20, and anxious to break out on his own. He had been working as an apothecary since the age of 16, and felt prepared to move westward where great financial promise existed.

Joseph convinced his brother Arthur to resettle in Hannibal and it was here that the younger Cheever brother, at the age of 20, filled out his Civil War draft registration forms on July 1, 1863.

They settled in with the family of their cousin, Charles P. Heywood, at 208 N. Third. By 1866, Joseph was operating his own drug business at 203 Broadway, and his younger brother was working as a salesman at the store.

Two years later, they were in partnership together, and they advertised prominently in the 1871 Hannibal city directory:

“Cheever Bros Druggists

“Broadway near Main, Hannibal, Missouri

“We have the largest and most complete assortment of family medicines, drugs, chemicals, fancy goods, patent medicines and toilet articles of all kinds in North Missouri. Cheever Bros. 203 Broadway, Hannibal, Mo.”

While their business may have been prosperous, it would not be long-lived.

Arthur, the younger of the brothers, died June 13, 1873.

J.A. Cheever continued the business on his own accord. But his death, too, came prematurely. The Hannibal Clipper newspaper reported the news on Jan. 11, 1877:

“The city was startled this morning by the announcement that Joseph A. Cheever, the sole proprietor of a drug establishment on Broadway a few doors west of the crossing of Main street, was dead.”

Despite his access to the best medicine available during that era, death won the battle.

The Hannibal Clipper reported: “Mr. Cheever complained of being unwell on Tuesday. Yesterday morning he was taken much worse, and at an early hour he became unconscious. Dr. W.D. Foster was called in, and pronounced his disease congestion of the brain. He had little hopes of his recovery. Mr. Cheever continued to grow worse until this morning at one o’clock, when he expired.”

So saddened were his drug store contemporaries, that they joined the funeral procession to Riverview Cemetery as a group. Druggists of the same era were A.R. Ayres; Littleton T. Brittingham, J.B. Brown, E.V. Brown, P.A. Heitz, W.B. Kizer, L. Orynski, A. Russ, Mrs. B. Speaking and Henry Walker.

The Cheever brothers were bachelors, and no near relatives were known.

The store was closed and financial transactions were dealt with during the probate process.

When the tombstone was placed at the cemetery – following Arthur’s death but prior to Joseph’s death - confusion over its design existed among townsfolk.

The Hannibal Clipper explained:

“Some ladies were criticizing the monument, not knowing the significance of the emblem, and upon the Sexton explaining the matter, but not in such a shape as to be comprehended by them, one of the party replied that she cared nothing for Masonry, but if the monument was erected in memory of any of her friends she would have the piece smoothed off where it had been broken.”

This advertisement was included in the 1871 Hannibal city directory, accessed through the Hannibal Free Public Library’s website. Text includes: “We have the largest and most complete assortment of family medicines, drugs, chemicals, fancy goods, patent medicines and toilet articles of all kinds in North Missouri. Cheever Bros. 203 Broadway, Hannibal, Mo.”

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