Antioch hosts Memorial Day Ceremony ‘unlike any other’

Community dedicates restored monument for War of 1812 vet

ANTIOCH – Antioch’s earliest known soldier no longer can be described as a forgotten hero.

A Memorial Day service at Hillside Cemetery in Antioch included the dedication of a restored monument for Capt. Leverett H. Barnes, a soldier in the War of 1812.

Barnes’ headstone had fallen and been partially buried by dirt and grass through the years. Its restoration evolved into a community effort and helped bring back Antioch’s Memorial Day service.

The last time Antioch hosted a Memorial Day ceremony was at least seven years ago, said retired U.S. Army Col. Paul Hettich, who facilitated the May 31 ceremony and is a member of both Antioch’s American Legion and VFW. The groups joined with the Lakes Region Historical Society to host the event.

“We come from a small town, and it’s really such a tight community that with all these organizations … and so many others, we just came together,” Hettich said. “We wanted to take this opportunity after coming out of the pandemic or getting our way slowly out of the pandemic to put this on.”

He described it as a “ceremony unlike any other.”

Along with the dedication of the monument, the program included the presentation of colors, singing of the national anthem, an invocation, comments from community leaders, a presentation of a wreath, a three-volley salute and the playing of taps.

“For me, it’s just an honor to facilitate this and to see it come together to be a wonderful ceremony that honors all of our veterans,” Hettich said.

With more military personnel buried at Hillside Cemetery – at least several hundred – than any other area cemetery, the setting was fitting.

Efforts to restore Barnes’ headstone began last fall.

“We knew about this soldier,” said Ainsley Wonderling, director of the Lakes Region Historical Society. “I knew his stone was disappearing underground.”

She first approached Dave and David Moore of Strang Funeral Home of Antioch, who in turn worked with Tony Zoia of Zoia Monument Co. of Woodstock. All worked together to restore and reset the headstone at no cost, donating both time and materials.

“They did it out of their community spirit and patriotism and love for the community,” Wonderling said.

Barnes served with Capt. Sylvester Beecher’s company in the New York militia at Sackett’s Harbor.

According to historical society records, Barnes is believed to have remained in Sackett’s Harbor until 1816. Tensions remained high for a few years after the War of 1812 officially ended with the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814.

The war was the first time the U.S. declared war on a foreign nation. A Francis Scott Key poem inspired by a successful defense at Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the war later became known as “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

A Massachusetts native who lived in New York much of his adult life, Barnes is believed to have moved to the Fox Lake area in the mid-1840s and later to Antioch, where he farmed. He died May 26, 1872, at age 84.

Made out of soft limestone, his headstone was cleaned and placed upright again upon a small cement base. Remarkably, it remained unbroken and much of the inscription remained legible.

Wonderling knew all along that she wanted to dedicate the monument on Memorial Day. When she approached representatives of the American Legion and the VFW, the groups decided to join forces for the Memorial Day service.

It had been years since Antioch hosted an outdoor ceremony. The town once hosted a parade.

“We wanted to get back to that, honoring those who protect our freedom,” Wonderling said. “The world needs something positive to honor and thank everyone who served and defended our freedom.”