As the Halloween tradition highlights the eerie scares of death, this is a story of a broken headstone, and how a family rallied together to bring dignity to a fascinating life.
Halloween in the U.S. means stories of ghouls and ghosts and terrifying nightly jaunts through haunted cemeteries filled with shadowy grave markers rising above black grass. It evokes a picture of the cold night air filled with howling wolves and screeching bats flying under an icy blue moon.
Speaking of scary cemetery stories…I spent many months gathering documentation regarding a great-great-great-grandfather. Alfred Great Barker – what a fabulous middle name – was born in the late 1700s. During his lifetime, he experienced the rise of the Industrial Revolution in England, married the daughter of a doctor, supported his nine children through the ribbon-weaving industry, sang in the Coventry St. Michael’s Cathedral Choir, and carried a cane. As an adult, he left forever the land of his forefathers, sailed the Atlantic Ocean, and crossed a continent by train to live out his final years in a lonely, arid desert town situated in the American Great Basin.
After gathering all this information from documents like the U.K. Censuses, bishops’ transcripts, civil registration, newspapers, private journals, and the immigration records of Castle Garden, and after synthesizing the information into a fairly illuminating life sketch, I decided to take a trip to this ancestor’s final resting place.
Eager to view his grave monument and think through all I had learned about this person’s life, I walked up and down the rows of the tidy, small-town cemetery, searching for the only remaining physical evidence of this ancestor.
Shoes wet from the glistening dew in the grass, I made it to the final row of aged limestone headstones and began inspecting each one, searching for my ancestor’s name, when I came to this horrifying sight:
This devastating scene of the fractured headstone was akin to coming across my actual ancestor, broken in half, lying in misery in the hot summer sun and frigid ice and snow, neglected, forgotten and forlorn. Well, perhaps not quite as bad as all that, but it was certainly an unpleasant shock!
Undaunted, I snapped the photograph above, then sent out an SOS to as many descendants and relatives as I knew. Within a few months, enough money was collected to commission this repair job – interestingly enough, from the exact same monument company that had chiseled the headstone 142 years earlier:
Now I am assured that throughout this haunted season and for many haunted seasons to come, while skeletons dance and goblins drool, this ancestor’s dignity will remain restored, and his headstone will continue to reflect his fascinating life.
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Elsie Gambrel says
Do you know the exact process they used to restore the stone? Did they drill holes into it to hold the metal straps, etc.?