John Milburn Davis (John Milburn Davis)

John Milburn Davis

American Folk Figure. His elaborate gravesite is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is visited by 20,000-30,000 people annually. It has been featured in “Life”, “Newsweek”, and “People” magazines, and also on the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” television show. John Milburn Davis was born in Kentucky, and came to Brown County Kansas in 1878. He met and married his wife Sarah there in Brown County, where they farmed 260 acres. They had no children and lived a frugal life together. John and Sarah moved into Hiawatha Kansas in 1915.  John had wounded his hand, and went to a doctor and got the wound cleaned and taken care of.  An infection developed causing the loss of the hand.  Sarah died in 1930, and John suddenly became a big spender, giving away tens of thousands of dollars, a few hundred at a time, to the needy.  The city of Hiawatha, Kansas hoped John would help build a new hospital for the town, but John refused.  The town also hoped he would help build a new swimming pool, but this he also declined.  He also had the simple ‘Davis” marker removed from Sarah’s gravesite, and began building a memorial for her.  It began with pillars that supported a 105,000 pound canopy. During the next few years, 10 lifesize marble statues depicting John and Sarah Davis at various ages were installed. A final 11th piece in granite shows John seated in a chair, with an empty chair beside him that bears the inscription “The Vacant Chair”. Davis often visited the gravesite, and often spoke to visitors about it.  On one such visit, he saw a visitor sitting in “The Vacant Chair”.  Angered by this, he had a wall erected around the gravesite.  Reporter Ernie Pyle, who later won a Pulitzer prize for his work, interviewed John Davis in the late 1930s.  Davis told Pyle he was unmoved by the towns appeals.  When John Davis died in 1947, few attended his funeral.  The towns people apparently never forgave him for building this elaborate memorial instead of building the town a hospital or swimming pool.  But the town of 3,600 has received the benefit of all the tourist dollars spent for many years now. (bio by: Bill Walker)  Family links:  Spouse:  Sarah Elizabeth Hart Davis (1860 – 1930)


  • January, 18, 1855
  • USA


  • April, 04, 1947
  • USA


  • Mount Hope Cemetery
  • Kansas
  • USA

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