Archive for Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Gravestone takes journey in two states

Local man hopes headstone will return soon to cemetery

July 17, 2002

Thanks to some detective work by a Tonganoxie resident, the headstone of a woman who died 126 years ago soon will return to her grave.

And it's been a long time coming.

The gravestone, dated 1876, has traveled about 300 miles in the last year. Its current resting place is the Tonganoxie Police Department.

The stone's bizarre journey has stretched through eastern Kansas and a portion of western Missouri. But how it got from point A to point B and back to point A before it will be taken to point C is still sketchy.

First, the basics.

The words "Farewell, Caroline A., wife of A.D. Root" are etched into the weathered gravestone. Root was born Oct. 1, 1834, and died Feb. 24, 1876. Supposedly, the monument was discovered in a ditch near Tonganoxie earlier this year. The people who found the gravestone noticed that the George Hobgood Company, Clinton, Mo, made it.

Instead of taking the gravestone to Tonganoxie authorities, the people who found it apparently thought it could be traced from where it was made. So it traveled roughly 105 miles to the Henry County Sheriff's Department in Clinton, Mo., in March.

Henry County Sheriff Kent Oberkrom said the tombstone was brought in and basically forgotten, after no records were found through the monument company. While cleaning out the department's garage last week, an officer asked Oberkrom what they should do with the monument.

Last Wednesday, a prisoner had to be transported to Johnson County anyway, so Oberkrom contacted Tonganoxie dispatcher Mike Vestal on Tuesday to make the peculiar arrangements of dropping off Root's gravestone.

"He said 'if some guy comes in with a headstone, it's all right,'" said Tonganoxie police clerk Sandy Koontz about instructions from Vestal.

A Henry County officer brought the 150-pound stone last Wednesday to the Tonganoxie department where it's being kept temporarily.

The gravestone was back to the area where it was discovered, but one question still lingered what cemetery did Root's headstone come from?

Vestal set out to find the monument's origin and answer the question. Vestal, along with his sister, Brenda Baker, Olathe, have been working on their family's genealogy for about a year, so they have some experience in research.

Vestal made some calls and Baker searched the Internet for any information on the name Root.

On Wednesday, Baker first searched ancestory.com, but didn't have any leads.

Baker then put the information on a message board at genealogy.com, and later that evening, she received information from an official from the Saline County Sheriff's Department.

The officer found information about Caroline A. Root on the University of Kansas Web site: www.cc.ukans.edu/cgi-bin/search.

"It was really quick," Baker said. "The Internet has certainly changed genealogy research."

Vestal prefers pencil and paper to do his research, but with his sister, the headstone's proper home was found.

It turned out the gravestone came from a cemetery near Pleasanton in Linn County, about 85 miles south of Tonganoxie.

Vestal contacted Linn County Sheriff Marvin Stites about the gravestone on Thursday because the Internet information didn't specify which cemetery in Linn County it was that Root was buried in. Stites called back 20 minutes later with the location.

The woman was buried in the Root family cemetery. Vestal said he learned through Stites that her husband, A.D., remarried and also ran a grist mill along the Marais des Cygnes River.

For Vestal, who's been with the Tonganoxie department for 27 years, the search was fun.

"Once I put my mind to finding something I find it pretty quick," he said.

Vestal was most pleased that the monument found its home.

"I was so glad we could find where the tombstone belonged," Vestal said.

The Linn County Historical Society also was happy with the find. The group had been looking for the gravestone for several years.

Still, how the gravestone ended up in Tonganoxie is an ongoing mystery.

Officers in Henry County misplaced reports about the tombstone when it was brought into the sheriff's department there, so where it exactly was found near Tonganoxie and who discovered it is, for now, still unknown. Oberkrom said he did recall the report showing the tombstone being found near a county road.

The situation was definitely unique.

"It's a first," Oberkrom said.

For Henry County, though, it's not quite the strangest situation for its department.

In March 2001, Oberkrom said, a Minnesota man murdered his wife, dismembered her body and dumped it in Truman Lake near Clinton. Luckily, the man turned himself in shortly after.

That case was solved, but the case of Caroline Root's tombstone remains shrouded in mystery.

Vestal said he thought that whoever turned in the stone might have gotten Leaven-worth and Linn counties confused, because Mound City and Clinton are closer than Tonganoxie and Mound City.

Pleasanton and Clinton are about 70 miles apart; Tonganoxie to Pleasanton is a drive of nearly 90 miles.

Vestal also found it strange that whoever found the tombstone didn't bring it to Tonganoxie police when it was discovered, if it was found near Tonganoxie.

According to Stites, Caroline Root's headstone is not the first to be lifted from the family cemetery.

"Vandalism in a cemetery is not that unusual, with any being too much," Stites said. "But stealing a stone is quite out of the ordinary."

Vestal plans to make arrangements soon to ensure the heavy stone heads home. Someone from the department might take the gravestone to Mound City for Linn County authorities.

If that doesn't occur, Vestal also discussed possibly having Tonganoxie Historical Society members take the monument to Pleasanton and meet with Linn County Historical Society members.

But for now, the gravestone rests still in one piece in the Tonganoxie Police Department.

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