If you’ve ever driven north on I-69, you’ve probably passed the Cemetery of Innocents that sits on the Durchholz family farm. Since the 1990s, the Durchholzes, their extended family, and their friends have helped maintained this plot of sacred ground.
The Cemetery of Innocents serves as a memorial to the number of babies aborted each day in the United States. The idea originated when Mike Fichter, former Executive Director of Vanderburgh County Right to Life (Right to Life of Southwest Indiana’s predecessor) and Bill Butterfield were looking for a farm whose location would have the greatest visual impact on those passing by.
Right to Life spoke with Angie (Durchholz) Lasher about the history and impact the Cemetery of the Innocents has had on the community. In the early days of the Cemetery, 4,000 wooden crosses, representing the number of daily abortions in the U.S., were placed in the ground each year after the harvest and then gathered back up and stored until the next harvest. The undertaking of this project called for a lot of extra help through the years, from Mark Ikoff helping to make a grid to line up the crosses, to John Lasher and Albert Sturgeon keeping the area mowed, to Chuck Wigger helping install the vinyl signs by the interstate, and many more.
In 2009, the family decided to divide the crosses and donated 2,000 to a Gibson County farm owned by Sylvester & Pat Elpers, who would display the crosses on their property on Hwy 41 just south of the I-64 junction to have double the visual impact. The Durchholzes decided to have a more permanent installation and created 2,009 crosses using PVC pipe that fit over metal rods in the ground.
Donations from the community helped to complete the project in a unique way. For each donation, a baby was spiritually adopted, and a certificate containing the baby’s name was inserted into a capped compartment of the cross. Each name remains there to this day. A ceremony was held for the community with Father Chris Forler presiding to bless the field.
Tending to the Cemetery for all of these years had become part of the fabric of the Durchholz family, but Lasher says there was one time she started to have doubts about keeping the project up, and in prayer, she asked God if it even made a difference. Unbeknownst to Lasher, a regular passerby of the Cemetery on his way from Louisville to Evansville, a songwriter named Wayne Carroll, was so moved by the Cemetery’s presence and message that he wrote a song called “4,000 Crosses” about the experience. Carroll recorded the song and sent CD copies to Right to Life. On her daughter’s 18th birthday, Lasher received a package filled with CDs of Carroll’s song “4,000 Crosses” and the answer to her prayer! God was using the Cemetery of the Innocents to make an impact on the hearts of people who saw it, and she now held the proof in her hands.
“The main thing I hope the Cemetery of the Innocents would accomplish is to help those who pass by start thinking about the babies and hopefully have their hearts soften,” says Lasher. “This type of project affects the whole community and helps to educate in a five second window about the effects of abortion and will possibly start conversations that change hearts within the cars that pass by.”
The memorial has long contained a wooden billboard that read “Thousands lost daily to abortion” and “Pray. Work. Vote for life.” This summer, the wooden billboard was upgraded to a permanent metal billboard! Right to Life of Southwest Indiana would like to thank Ron Pohl and his brother for donating concrete from A&T Concrete, and Steve Wilson, Chuck Wigger, and John Lasher for donating hours of their time and skills towards this upgrade! We would also like to thank Angie Lasher and the entire Durchholz family for standing for life in a very public way.