E. A. Burbank back home for eternity
By Laurie Brady
Harvard Staff Writer
Harvard Herald
© Northwest Herald, used with permission

One of Harvard's most famous citizens is finally laid to rest. Hopefully.

A brief memorial service for Elbridge Ayer Burbank, a well-known artist, was held Thursday at the Ayer family crypt in Mount Auburn Cemetery where his ashes
will remain after the interment and disinterment twice before.

About 20 persons gathered to witness the ceremony officiated by the Rev. Harold Demus.

"In some people's minds no human can be buried without some type of ceremony," Pastor Demus said. "It was not a mourning situation, but rather a celebration in that someone famous from this community is now related to us in a personal way."

Burbank was born in 1858 in Harvard - two years after the city's founding - and was educated here. He studied at the Academy of Design in Chicago and then in Munich and Paris under famous teachers. He lived among Indians of the western tribes and painted all the chiefs and other notable tribe members.

He also painted a portrait of Abraham Lincoln and a Welsh Lord. His works are displayed in many institutions in the United States, including the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C., and the Chicago Art Institute.

Many say Burbank has traveled as much after his death in 1949 as he did while alive. He died in California and by the request of his second wife, Blanche Wheeler O'Sullivan, he was cremated, brought to Rockford, and entombed at her left side in the Forest View Abbey Mausoleum. Her second - husband, Jeremiah O'Sullivan, was placed on her right side. [Note: Burbank was originally cremated and interred in the Olivet Memorial Park, near San Francisco, CA. Blanche was Burbank's first wife, not his second - though he was married a second time]

However, the Forest View Abbey is deteriorating and the 130 unclaimed remains have to be reinterred. Through the efforts of the North Central Illinois Geneological Society and Greenwood Cemetery, Rockford, a list of the names of those still en-tombed there was published in a Rockford newspaper.

Harvard resident Fred Carson recognized the name of E. A. Burbank and notified Gwendolyn Danner, a board member of the Greater Harvard Area Historical Society who in return notified the NCIGS. Danner is a local historian who writes historical and general information columns for the Herald.

Cemetery association officials would not let the society take Burbank's ashes without the bodies of his wife and her second husband. There have been 34 bodies reinterred so far from the mausoleum.

Burial arraignments were donated by Ben Saunders, of Saunders and Hoffman Funeral Home. The city underwrote the cost of cremating the O'Sullivans.

Burbank now lies in the Ayer family crypt next to Mr. and Mrs. Edward Ayer, his aunt and uncle. He was named after his grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Ayer, who is credited with the founding of Harvard in 1856. It is also believed that former President Gerald Ford is a cousin once removed to E. A. Burbank.

The Delos F. Diggins Library now has an Elbridge Ayer Burbank exhibit which will be on display through the weekend. The library also has the book "Burbank Among the Indians," which he co-authored.