Tuesday, July 12

A Tale of Two Traveling Tombstones

In The Lost Tombstone, Dennis L. Davenport recounts how the long-lost grave marker of Civil War soldier J. Milton Carr was finally returned to its rightful place in a cemetery at Columbia IL, 10 miles from the St. Louis backyard in which it was discovered on November 22, 1996.

That's Dennis and a friend in the photo at right, unloading Carr's stone at the cemetery. Definitely not the time to have to sneeze or scratch an itch!

"No one knew how it got there," he writes, "or how long it
was lying in the brush. Dirty, worn, and with the lower left
corner broken away, the St. Louis County Police Department
seized the tombstone and held it as found property

It's a given that vandals removed it from the cemetery where Pvt. Carr had been lovingly laid to rest in the winter of 1861, and that they did so before January 1, 1939, the date someone - a member of Carr's family, most likely - ordered a replacement from the War Department.

The second stone, Davenport soon learned, had been duly delivered to the cemetery and installed on Carr's grave. However, he doesn't say mention its fate after he convinced the Palmier Cemetery Commission that the intricately carved stone originally purchased by the family should replace the War Dept's much plainer replacement!

Remember, this was when the internet was still thought to be a passing fad, not the instant access to genealogical information it is now. So Dennis and anyone else who assisted him in finding the location of Pvt. Carr's grave get a huge round of applause for the hard work and man hours that went into doing it the old-fashioned way!

We'll probably never know if the backyard in St. Louis was the only location Carr's original tombstone languished until its journey back to Palmier Cemetery began in earnest in 1996.

The same can't be said of the tombstone
of Civil War soldier William Lee Lyon.
I personally have knowledge of some
- but only some - of its travels!

Lyon was born in 1839 in Ohio, but in 1854, when Kansas Territory was officially opened to white settlers, his anti-slavery father moved the family to Lawrence.

Thus it was from there on 8 April 1862 that 22-year-old William enlisted in the 9th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, Company B. At that time, the 9th was only 11 days old, having been formed at Fort Leavenworth on March 27th by consolidating several units originally intended for other regiments.

Alas, Pvt. Lyon was destined never to "see the elephant" (a euphemism for participating in battle). By the time the 9th received its first marching orders in June, he'd been laid to rest in the Lyon family cemetery west of Lawrence, cut down on April 22nd in Atchison KS not by a Confederate bullet, but by pneumonia, exactly two weeks after enlisting.

Like J. Milton Carr's family, the Lyons purchased a stone befitting a fallen soldier. At 300 lbs, it's quite similar in size, shape and thin-ness to the one Dennis Davenport and friend are wrestling out of the back of that car in the photo at the beginning of this post.

I mention it's not as thick as most stones of that era only because the friends who had it at three different homes over a period of 20 years or so always marveled that it wasn't as fragile as it looked.

Their first home in Lawrence was in a brand new subdivision at what was then the west edge of town, but miles from the Lyon family cemetery. Nobody ever knew how William Lyon's tombstone came to be on the creek bank at the end of their street, but that's where their grade school-age children found it, and with the help of neighbor kids, hauled it home in a little red wagon and propped it up against the back of the house.

And that's where it stayed until they moved it to a different house years later. And to another one after that!

Why would anybody in their right mind, you ask,
not only keep but (twice!) move a 300 lb tombstone
of a CW soldier who's no relation to them?

Because at first, being new to the area, they didn't have a clue who to call to find out where it came from, and by the time they did, it'd become a member of the family. Something about it, the mother said, made it feel like an extra pair of eyes when the kids were playing in the back yard, and because it "glowed" in the moonlight, she suspected it scared off would-be burglars too. They did finally leave it behind when they moved back to Lawrence from a farm a few miles north of Tonganoxie.

But I knew nothing of this until April 11th, 1999, when the mother called and screamed "It's in the paper! Our tombstone is in tonight's paper!".

That would be the story in the Lawrence Journal-World reporting that Nancy and Bud Younger, the couple who'd owned the farm for the last 11 years, had finally located the cemetery where William Lee Lyon is buried and that they were making arrangements to return the stone. And just as my friends did, they too felt it had become a member of the family...

All well and good, but...

The article said "The Youngers still don't know how the marker ended up near Tonganoxie". Well, as far as I know, they still don't...unless they stumble across this post.

I intended to include a photo of Lyon's Traveling Tombstone, but would you believe there are none anywhere on the internet? Not even the photos that accompanied the newspaper articles from 1999! Never fear...I clipped those articles and as soon as I find the box they're hiding in, I'll share the pics here.

A local TV station interviewed a Lyon-Wood relative who was adamant that this would absolutely be the last time the stone would have to be returned, because the family was having it set in concrete.

With all due respect, I think they wasted their money.

William Lee Lyon was in the prime of life when he arrived at Fort Leavenworth, expecting a bit of adventure as a soldier before returning home to settle down, raise a family, and farm a piece of land in Douglas County. Pneumonia may have ended the farming and having children of his own, but I can't help but think it doesn't keep his spirit from going wherever the tombstone goes or that he never wanted to be stuck for eternity in that little country cemetery, so no one should be surprised when the tombstone goes missing again, as I'm absolutely sure it will.

Read the complete account of The Lost Tombstone
by Dennis L. Davenport

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

As a local historian, I was interested to learn new information about the former location of the William Lee Lyon tombstone on your posting.

I was fortunate to attend the 1999 formal ceremony in which the "missing" William Lee Lyon stone was placed in the yard at Queens Road south of the Lyon Family Cemetery in Douglas County, Kansas.

Could you let me know the name of the street in Lawrence where the stone was originally found on the creek bed by some children? What year would that have been?

Unfortunately the stone went "missing" again for several years after the ceremony. But this year, [2013] it has been located again. Relatives are now trying to decide on a more permanent location for the stone.

See "Findagrave.com" for more information.