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One family’s Memorial Day tradition bridges the past and present

The grave site of soldier Zachariah Moon sits alone alone Highway 41.
The grave site of soldier Zachariah Moon sits alone alone Highway 41.

Over eight decades, five generations honor a fallen soldier

Story and photo by Patricia Beech –

Memorial Day is a uniquely American holiday. It not only inspires patriotic sentiment and reminds us that liberty comes at a cost, but it also has the power to make the past real to people because it is infused with memories and tradition.

While Memorial services were being conducted in cemeteries across the county and families were laying flowers on their loved ones graves, one local family made their traditional yearly trek to the site of a lone tombstone along highway 41. For more than 80 years they have come to this place near the Treber Inn to pay their respects to a young soldier who died there one night in October 1813.

The family, all descendants of Roy Knauff, a WWI veteran, teacher, orator, and newspaper editor, gather round the weathered stone and tell the story of Zachariah Moon, a private in the 13th Kentucky Militia.

“I’m not sure what it is about the place or the story that drew our grandfather to it, but it has become a tradition for our family,” said Knauff’s granddaughter Tricia Fraley. Fraley’s mother, Marilyn Knauff, says she believes her father-in-law’s patriotism was what drew him there, “He was a very sensitive man, I think it was because that soldier was left there alone, and it wasn’t his home,” she says. “I think Mr. Knauff felt that someone should take care of him.”

Here is the story of Zachariah Moon, as told by Mr. Knauff to his sons, Walter and Hubert:

“While Memorial Day services are being held today in the cemeteries of Adams County, there is one lone soldier’s grave that will be remembered respectfully, as always. The white marble marker at the head of the grave informs the passerby that Zachariah Moon, a private in the 13th Kentucky Militia, is sleeping the last-long sleep. A soldier of the War of 1812, he was died and was buried here in October 1813. Moon was with a company of troops returning south from their campaigns along the Canadian border. They were being deployed from the north, presumably for a buildup of strength in the Mississippi Valley to block a threatened invasion by the British troops of General Edward Packenham. The troops followed what is known as Zane’s Trace to where Aberdeen now stands and crossed the Ohio River by barge into Limestone, now Maysville, Ky. On an October day the soldiers had eaten their noon meal near Locust Grove. The long afternoon shadows lay cool across their paths as they trudged along the trail on the last leg of their journey for the day. On reaching Treber Inn they found a level field in which to bivouac for the night. Tired from their long day’s journey, the soldiers slept well while the wolves howled in the forest and the night hawk called to his mate across the ravine. It was during this night that Pvt. Moon died. The next morning his comrades prepared a grave beside the trail, the chaplain intoned the burial rites, the bugler sounded taps and the soldiers resumed their journey, leaving their comrade behind. The trail beside which Moon is buried was not much more than a path through the wilderness. Wolves have ceased their howling, but the night hawk still calls to his mate across the ravine, and the soldier boy still sleeps.”

Before passing away in 2003 Walter (Shorty) Knauff sent his father’s story to the People’s Defender. “For as far back as I can remember, Dad took me and Hubert to Zachariah Moon’s grave on what we called Decoration Day, to place flowers on the grave,” he wrote. “Years later, I continued to place flowers at the grave site with my own children, and each year, I too, told the story of Zachariah Moon. Now, I take my grandchildren to this sacred spot and they too want to hear the story.”

When Walter died the mantle of story teller was passed to his daughter Kris Brown.

“When I was young I kind of got away from it because my life felt so rushed, but now that I’m older, it means a lot to me,” Brown says. “Now, I can see how important it was to my dad.”

Brown and her four sisters share a common childhood memory. “Every year we gathered baskets of flowers from our grandmothers’ gardens, and we wore little sashes and rode through town in the Memorial Day parade,” she says. “Then we’d go to the cemeteries and put flowers on all the graves that had a flag, Dad would make a speech, and then we’d go visit Zachariah Moon’s grave, and he would tell us the story.”

This year the family’s newest member, Fraley’s two-year old grandson, became the fifth generation to make the visit to Moon’s grave.

“We’ve shared this story with our parents, then with our own children, and now I’ll do it for my grandson,” says Fraley. “He’ll never know my Dad, but he’ll know something about him because of this place.”

Perhaps, that is part of the reason we are all drawn to cemeteries on Memorial Day, we can feel the past there, and it allows us to leave a part of ourselves behind.

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2016 People's Defender