Peutermans headstone. The diagonal shadow near the center of the stone indicates a break that was repaired.
Death notice (click on image to enlarge)
Moss grows on gravestones near the west end of the North Platte Cemetery, where a tall slim monument marks the grave of a young madame.
Buried there, in the second-oldest grave in the cemetery, are the remains of Madame Joanna Maria Goverdina Peutermans.
Peutermans was a native of Belgium. She died near North Platte on June 8, 1871 while she was on a coast-to-coast train trip, according to North Platte research librarian Kaycee Anderson.
Articles in the Sacramento Daily and the Springfield (Mass.) Republican newspapers reported her death two days later, with brief notices.
According to the Sacramento paper, Peutermans was on a westbound emigrant train and died of epilepsy. She was traveling alone, on a one-way ticket bound for San Francisco.
The fascinating thing was Peutermans’ wealth. According to the news reports, she had $10,000 with her, mostly in United States bonds, a tremendous amount of money to carry in 1871.
Both papers ran the same story on the same day, with only one small difference, Anderson said.
The Sacramento paper attributed her death to apoplexy, instead of epilepsy.
The word apoplexy was typically used in those days to describe a sudden death, especially one in which the victim died within a matter of seconds, according to the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. The word apoplexy is rarely used anymore, except to indicate bleeding in connection with another cause of death.
Researchers believe the “madame” in front of her name indicated that she was a high-class prostitute, Anderson said.
It’s likely that the news of her death and burial was sent by telegraph to both newspapers by Lincoln County officials who made the burial arrangements and could have followed information they found in her belongings.
Western Union built its first transcontinental telegraph line 10 years earlier in 1861 along the transcontinental railroad right-of-way.
There is no word of what happened to Peutermans money.
Evidently some of the money was used for her headstone, which, although broken once and repaired, remains in relatively good condition after more than 140 years.
If anyone has more insights about this time and fascinating woman, contact Anderson at the library.
First published in the April 4 print edition of the North Platte Bulletin.