By J. Malan Heslop
Deseret News managing editor
Deseret News, Church News section, March 31, 1979, page 13.
Eli Abegg, 86, is a living history book. He has earned that distinction because he is in charge of the old LDS Cemetery at Binghampton, near Tucson, Arizona.
It is an interesting cemetery, hidden in the chaparral and sagebrush, and protected by small hills around it.
When Eli took an interest in the cemetery, nearly 15 years ago, there were more than 100 unmarked graves. There was an overgrowth of weeds and the cemetery was generally in a run-down condition.
Eli has worked without pay. The grounds are clean. Small stones and pebbles mark the paths and outline many of the graves. Identification has been established for all but 35 of the graves. Stones and markers are at most burial sites. A good deal of pride has developed for the cemetery.
Brother Abegg's years of study and research have given him a reputation as a living history book.
But more than that, he has been part of the history. As a young man, he lived in the Binghampton Branch, organized early in 1910. The branch was fully organized and enjoyed musical entertainment, speech, and drama as part of its Mutual activity. Eli was part of a male quartet; which also included Gordon Kimball, Frank Webb, and Oscar Jesperson. The four sang together for 21 years.
The community was named after the Bingham family. Nephi Bingham settled in Tucson in the spring of 1900, according to Edna Bingham Sabin, his daughter. Tucson had one street at the time; which was unpaved. Jacob Bingham and his family also settled in the area and soon they moved about six miles away to the south side of the Rillito River where farming was better. Members from Mexico joined them so that enough members were present to organize the branch.
The Binghampton Branch chapel was the first Latter-Day Saint meetinghouse in the Tucson area. Construction was started Sept. 15, 1927, and the building was dedicated Feb. 26, 1936. The cost was $40,000.
Many of the historic events of Binghampton that Eli wasn't part of he has found from his research.
Sister Sabin tells the history of the LDS Cemetery as follows:
"In the year 1901, an old man, living on the south side of the Rillito River, passed away. His friends asked my father, Nephi Bingham, if he would pick a place to bury him. He picked the place that is now called the Binghampton LDS Cemetery.
"In 1913, Heber Farr's little girl was buried there and then one of the Young girls was buried there.
"My father passed away in 1916 and was buried there."
She tells of seven people being killed in an accident at Jacob Lake, Arizona, in 1934. Their graves are at the LDS Cemetery.
"I would look out of my kitchen window while washing dishes and I could see the cemetery," she said. "It looked so bare and all alone.
"The last time I was over there, in 1969, the ground was covered with pale yellow flowers. It looked so beautiful."
Eli's ambition is to always have the cemetery looking good. He has built a beautiful stone entrance and involved many people in the project.
Interestingly enough, the whole project began as a home teaching project.
"I was home teaching a part member family when the lady told me that she had a gripe," he explained.
"Her gripe was that the LDS Cemetery was a disgrace to everybody. So I took a look and it wasn't very well kept."
Eli asked his bishop if he could form a committee to see that the cemetery was cared for. The bishop said yes, and made Eli the chairman.
In turn, Eli asked the sister who had complained to be on the committee; and with others they met on a regular basis and the cemetery, though not lush green in the hot Arizona climate, is clean and well organized.
"It is the most interesting and longest home teaching assignment I have ever had." Eli said.