Graveyard shift

Farm Forum

In the cemetery in the little town of Elkton along the Minnesota border there’s an old, vine covered concrete mausoleum that is part of an interesting story.

Elkton’s crypt builder and its first occupant was local inventor, state legislator, Richland Township farmer and Elkton postmaster Henry Heintz.

He’s still in there with several kin who were booked for later reservations.

Before the world knew of Orville and Wilbur Wright, farmer-postmaster Henry Heintz was designing and overseeing the construction of an airship he’d designed.

Of course, in the late 1800s as he and Frank Wulf of Aurora were putting the contraption together, no one had any idea what an airplane was supposed to look like.

The Wright brothers later patterned theirs after birds. Heintz settled on the boat look.

His pudgy craft was loaded with a heavy steam engine and wood to keep it stoked. There was also a headlight, apparently for night flights.

A propeller spun from the stern to provide propulsion. A series of umbrella-like gadgets rushed up and down on a sort of large camshaft. On the downstroke, the umbrellas were supposed to open up and provide lift.

They closed on the upswing.

In early April of 1900, Henry climbed into the open cockpit (he called it the pilot house), threw some logs on the fire, and hit the switch, or whatever you do with steam engines.

Henry’s creation was a noisy calamity. As it struggled mightily in a dust cloud to gain even a foot of airspace in usually quiet Aurora, horses reared, chickens cackled, pool hall engineers swallowed their cuds, kids screamed and the cakes in Aurora housewives’ ovens all fell in on themselves.

Henry’s experiment was a gigantic bust. Three years later the Wright Brothers flew at Kitty Hawk.

And 18 years after Heintz’ solo attempt, the inventor died. By then his vault in the Elkton cemetery was ready for the man who worried that he might be buried while still alive. His crypt was unique.

A key to the door was hanging on an inside crypt nail within easy reach. Heintz’s casket had a sliding glass cover. If he should wake from his slumber, he could slide the lid open and step out for a breath of fresh air and maybe a good cigar.

The lid was glass because he had also made arrangements for an Elkton youngster to come to the crypt every day for a week after his burial to peek in and make sure he was still dead, but too weak to operate the sliding door or reach for the vault’s key.

The second week, the boy had to check him out only once every two days.

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