What do you do with an old gravestone in Marietta?
A former history teacher, Fred O'Neill has a penchant for artifacts. So it's no surprise that his interest was piqued when a 150-year-old tombstone turned up in the woods near his home.
"A kid told me he thought someone was buried there, so I checked it out," O'Neill said as he hiked to the site Friday afternoon.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Fred O’Neill is shown with the tombstone of 15-year-old Mary D. Smith who died in 1860 and is buried in Marietta’s historic Mound Cemetery. Her grave marker was discovered in a wooded area south of Cisler Drive.
"It turned out it was just the gravestone that had been buried in the ground," he said. "But it belonged to a girl who had died in 1860."
Making his way through an area of overgrowth and hanging vines, O'Neill eventually stopped at the base of a tall tree. Propped against the trunk was a heavy stone monument about 2 feet high.
The engraved words on the marker were faded with age, but partially readable - "Mary D., Daughter of W. & P.A. Smith, died June 14, 1860, age 15."
What to do
- Anyone finding a gravestone they believe may have come from one of the city's historic cemeteries can call Marietta City Hall at (740) 373-1387.
"My concern was that someone had swiped the stone from the cemetery and this poor girl had no marker for her grave," O'Neill said.
But after some research in a book by late Marietta College Professor Owen Hawley, O'Neill discovered that the young woman was buried in Mound Cemetery, and a visit there revealed a more recent, if less informative, marker had been place on the grave of Mary Dodge Smith.
"I figured a surviving daughter had the newer stone put in and the old marker was removed and somehow ended up here," O'Neill said.
But now he had another problem - what to do with such an historic artifact.
O'Neill contacted the mayor's office and was told the city's public facilities department took care of old tombstones.
"I told the city if they would call me I would show them the location," O'Neill said on Friday. "But I haven't heard from them yet."
City safety-service director Chad Presley said anyone finding a tombstone on their property can turn it over to the city.
"When a stone is found, right away we go and check the grave site," he said. "If the grave has no marker the stone would be put back in place, but if there's already another stone in place, we store the older stone in a building at Oak Grove Cemetery."
Marietta Councilman Harley Noland, who heads council's lands, buildings and parks committee, said it's not uncommon for people to find old grave markers outside of the city's cemeteries, but the issue underlines the need to reinstate the Marietta Cemeteries Commission, a body created by statute in 1974 to oversee city graveyards.
The commission was made up of the mayor, clerk of council, safety-service director, and others, including local funeral directors.
"Hopefully that commission could bring in a preservation and restoration expert who would show us how to take care of these monuments," Noland said.