MATTIE S. RAYBURN
W. H. RAYBURN
1836 – 1891.
BISHOP AND MRS. RAYBURN
WHAT THEREFORE GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER
LET NOT MAN PUT ASUNDER. MATT. 19 CHAPT. 6V.
A few weeks ago, my son and I drove over to Springfield, Illinois, to visit the Lincoln Tomb in the Oak Ridge Cemetery. A cemetery docent told us about the highlights in the cemetery including a tip to make sure we visited the gravesite of Mattie Rayburn.
Her monument sets on the highest hillock in the cemetery with a white-marble sculpture of Mattie sculpted by the Springfield firm of Richter and Doland atop a polished granite column. The docent said, “Mattie wanted to be able to look down on all those who looked down on her during her lifetime.” Now for eternity she does just that from her perch.
But why did the citizens look down on Mattie, she was, after all, a wife of esteemed Bishop W. H. Rayburn? That is where the story begins to unfold. Rayburn had been a Methodist minister at Williamsville, Illinois, a small town just north of Springfield, before being elevated to Bishop by the Pilgrim Movement which advocated the doctrine of Free Love.
There seems to be some confusion as to whether Mattie was Bishop Rayburn’s wife at all or whether she was, in fact, his mistress. There is also confusion about whether the woman buried under the column is Mattie Rayburn, a Hannah Funk Rayburn, or a Mrs. Redfield or if they are all the same person. What is clear is that Reverend Rayburn’s views on Free Love and faith healing were too much for the sensibilities of the Williamsville Methodists—in 1869 Rayburn was relieved of his duties as a minister of the church. That is when he went on to form his own ministry. Rayburn was evidently charismatic and strikingly handsome—a bit of a dandy, building a flock that followed him.
He took his ministry on the road and on the seas—all the way to California and on trips overseas—always returning to the Springfield area. On one such trip back, Mattie died and was buried at the Oak Ridge Cemetery. The Bishop went to Europe. Some believe he is buried in a pauper’s grave in Ireland while others believe he was laid to rest in Paris. Whatever the truth about the prairie preacher, Mattie’s likeness stands watch over those who gave her a gaze of disdain. She faces Northeast toward the village of Williamsville, arms folded with a look of stoic disapproval.