Where is Johnny Appleseed buried?
That question sparked debate in Fort Wayne in the 1930s and 1940s, and continues to plague historians. No one has yet found a tombstone or records to confirm the body of John Chapman lies in what is now Johnny Appleseed Park.
But new information seems to strengthen the case Chapman was buried on the hill in the park that now holds his memorial, said Steve Fortriede, who has researched the question extensively.
Fortriede updated his analysis in "Johnny Appleseed: The Man Behind the Myth," which was just revised and reprinted by The History Center.
"I'm not a great authority on Johnny Appleseed, but I have the access to this one little piece of his life," said Fortriede, the associate director of the Allen County Public Library.
Fortriede originally reported on the death and burial of Chapman, who was known as Johnny Appleseed, for a library pamphlet in the mid-1970s. The article was reprinted in 1978 in the "Old Fort News," a magazine of the Allen County-Fort Wayne Historical Society.
The article has been one of The History Center's most requested publications, said Walter Font, the museum's curator. After the museum ran out of copies, Font asked Fortriede about reprinting the story. Fortriede offered to help by updating it.
Born in September 1774, Chapman was in his early 60s when he began using Fort Wayne as his base of business operations, Fortriede said. Researchers believe he owned four parcels of land in Allen County, one of which was planted with 15,000 apple tree seedlings.
Chapman died March 18, 1845, after a brief illness. What happened after that became the subject of great debate.
One school of thought said Chapman was buried near where he died, which was at the home of a Richard Worth on the east side of the St. Joseph River. Fortriede believes the Worth cabin would have stood on land that now is Canterbury Green Apartments or the Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne campus.
Other reports said Chapman was buried in the Archer family cemetery, which lay on the hillside now containing the Chapman memorial at Johnny Appleseed Park.
Fortriede's original analysis of the available information pointed toward burial in the Archer cemetery. At the time, that conclusion "seemed to fly in the face of the common thought," he said.
But a new piece of evidence makes him believe more strongly his initial assessment is indeed correct.
Recently, Fortriede came across a vague reference to the Worth family attending First Baptist Church in Fort Wayne. The library's genealogy department contains many records from that church. So Fortriede checked to see if any Worths showed up in records of births, baptisms and membership from the 1830s and early 1840s.
"They all were in that book," he said.
The church records helped him put the various Worth family members into households. The records also enabled him to sort out relationships between some of the Worth men.
Here is what Fortriede believes happened:
The family patriarch, Richard, did live on the east side of the St. Joseph River on what is now Canterbury Green or IPFW. A David Worth, who appears to have been one of Richard's sons, lived directly across the river on its west side.
While some have argued Richard Worth wouldn't have been able to take Chapman's body across the river to the Archer cemetery, Fortriede believes otherwise.
Richard and David Worth undoubtedly would have been able to yell or communicate across the river. Their families probably also had a way to visit back and forth - possibly by boat, by riding horses through the stream or by some other means.
The Worths also regularly drove a team of horses into Fort Wayne on business and to attend Sunday worship at First Baptist. So transporting Chapman's body across the river would not have been an obstacle.
That then fits with an 1858 interview of Richard Worth Jr., another son of the patriarch. The younger Worth said Chapman was buried "respectably" in the Archer cemetery. The use of the term "respectably" suggests Chapman was buried in a real cemetery instead of near the cabin where he died.
Unless other records turn up, however, Fortriede doesn't believe anyone will ever find Chapman's grave.
"I doubt he was embalmed," he said, "and I doubt there is much left."