This is the unusual tale of John Strange.
Reverend Strange (1789-1832) was born in Virginia, and began his ministry in Ohio in 1810. In 1812 he was appointed to the Whitewater circuit in what became the state of Indiana. On this circuit, he carried a gun as defense against the Indians, who had been stirred up by the War of 1812. He served appointments and preached in numerous camp meetings and revivals in both Indiana and Ohio for several years, eventually presiding over the Madison, Charlestown, and Indianapolis districts in Indiana. With his wife, the former Ruth Waller, he had five children. She survived him, and remarried, to John L. Thompson, Lt. Governor of Indiana.
Historian William Warren Sweet wrote: "It is doubtful if there has ever been a Methodist preacher in Indiana more universally loved than John Strange."
Despite his distinctive surname, Rev. John Strange's story actually has very few peculiarities. He was much like his fellow circuit-riders and dressed as they did. He too was converted and began preaching early in life, he suffered the excruciating hardships of frontier riding, and he was a productive minister who won many converts. He served as presiding elder, but that was not so strange. As with a great many other itinerant preachers, his health gave way from overwork, he died in poverty, and he went to an early grave. Typical enough.
Nevertheless, Rev. Aaron Wood had to admit, "The personal appearance of John Strange was somewhat peculiar. His waist, neck, and arms were long disproportionately to other parts of his frame; his lower limbs were shorter than those of most men of the same height." And Bishop Ames couldn't refrain from noting that "there was a strange attraction in his manner, there was a strange, unearthly power in his thoughts and words."
Another oddity was his apparent indifference toward the needs of his family. He was fond of saying that he trusted in the providence of God to care for them, and then riding off to his circuit while making scanty provision for them.
But possibly the most extraordinary circumstance of John Strange's life came near its end. As his last illness wore on and he had no place to go (some say that he and other homeless men sought shelter in the unfinished and abandoned Governor's mansion on the Circle where the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument now stands), his colleagues in the ministry took a collection and bought him a lot and a house! Then, even after his death, the respect and affection continued on for decades. He was buried in Greenlawn, the old city burial ground in Indianapolis, and reportedly his fellows placed a stone on the grave which read:
to the memory of the Rev. John Strange
who departed this life
on the 2nd day of December 1832
in the 44th year of his age
and the 22nd year of his
They that be wise shall shine, and they that turn many to righteousness,
as the stars for ever and ever. – Daniel xii:3.
In 1911, as the city cemetery was being emptied to make way for commercial development, John Strange's bones were removed to the newer Crown Hill cemetery. But … no marker was put over his grave!
Decades passed. When the North and South Indiana Conferences celebrated the bicentennial of Methodism's coming to Indiana in 2001, the shame of the unmarked grave finally registered with some of the faithful. At last, in 2004, the South Indiana Conference paid Strange a long-overdue, remarkable tribute by acting to have a suitable headstone erected above his unmarked grave. They affixed a clergy medallion to it, and it stands today, a memorial not only to this man of God but to all those hundreds who rode, died, and sank into their shallow graves without monuments and without note.
The inscription on Strange's stone reads exactly as did the one on his first stone, with the addition of these lines:
South Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church 2004
GPS: 39 49 10.35, -86 10 12.10