Sunday, January 4, 2009

Day with the Dead at Stent

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So...what does your family like to do on the weekends?

Well . . . we like to visit very old dead people we don't even know.

Seeing that we're now living in an area just chock-a-block full of history - most of it now long forgotten - we've decided to spend more time this year exploring our own historical backyard.
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Today's outing: The small Stent Cemetery near Jamestown, California. Aaron's maternal grandmother, Nettie Jones Perkins supposedly was born in this very town when it was actually a thriving mining town. By the advent of her birth in 1900 it was in decline, as were many small towns in the region once mines became depleted. By 1925 the post office was decommissioned and shut up for good. Today, all that's left is this very small, hardly noticeable cemetery. Blink and you'll miss it.

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Only a handful of tombstones remain with many forgotten graves, now unmarked.

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Some are beautiful while other are mere rustic slabs of granite; no name, no details, just left blank. A few are heartbreaking:

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This is little Roy Lee Booth, dead at 18 months (Please ignore the adorable, almost-5 year old peeking out…he’s forever mugging for the camera). Heartbreaking for his parents, who obviously cherished their son, as demonstrated by substantial tombstone (the lamb gracing the top now missing his head) and the sentiment, “Baby Sleeps.”

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How or why did he die? The date of July 4th suggests maybe a tragic holiday accident. Possibly the wee toddler wandered off during a family outing to celebrate Independence Day, fell down a well or even an abandoned mine shaft. Maybe he contracted a fever or botilism from spoilt food (not surprising with the high summer heat in these parts). Or could it be the result of a tumble from the carriage as his father (who imbibed just a tad too much) drove too fast home from the Stent Fireworks? We’ll never know (so just ignore my fanciful speculations). Maybe digging around the Tuolumne County Archives would yield vital stats on the Booth family of Stent, California. But the sad details surrounding Baby Booth’s death are probably long forgotten by his ancestors, who have no idea he rests in this little neglected graveyard of a ghost town.

Here’s another intriguingly mysterious fella:

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Tomo L. Tomasevich, “iz Krusevice Hercegovina” (which I think means a native of Herzegovina), died December 23, 1908 at only 32 years old. What was a native born of Easter Europe doing living in Stent, a small mining town (by then on the fast-track to becoming a ghost town)?

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He too was well-loved obviously, with such a beautifully designed tombstone a testament to his family’s esteem and grief. Does anyone today remember this man? No other family members lie nearby so he lies alone.

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We loved this headstone, lying on the ground all catawampus, but in surprising excellent condition.

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The carving is so lovely…and see…the 5 year old can’t help himself. He just has to creep his little self in whenever possible!

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This headstone belongs to the Whitford family ancestoral plot. Buried here are Richard the Elder, Jane and another Richard (maybe a son?) in a far corner of the cemetery next to a now dead tree (and a surprisingly busily traversed country lane).

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Mama Jane’s inscription reads:

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A light from our house… A voice we loved is silent… A place is vacant in our hearts… That never can be filled

So many people lie here in this forgotten cemetery, representing a brief moment in time when this area was a vibrant, bustling community, familiar throughout this gold mining region distant past. All that remains are a few marble slabs and many questions of “who are you all?”

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