I have always found cemeteries to be intriguing places. No, I am not morbid or obsessed with death. I am a people person, and people’s biographies interest me. I like reading the information on people’s gravestones and putting their stories together. When I was 14 my family visited Washington D.C. and Arlington National Cemetery. While there I somehow made a wrong turn, and lost my family for a while, causing me to roam the cemetery, contemplating the sacrifices represented by all the grave stones, as I wandered alone, lost in my own thoughts. Looking back, I think I got more out of the visit by being alone for a while. I also published a blog post a while back about another encounter I had, while exploring a cemetery. When I have time, I enjoy going to the Find A Grave website and reading people’s biographies. It is not about their death it is about their life.
Late this afternoon I visited the Oak cemetery in Fort Smith Arkansas, and solved an old mystery. When I was a kid I would go with my parents to see my maternal grandfather’s grave. While there I ran across another grave stone which became a perplexing mystery to me. As I remembered, the tombstone had two pictures, one each of twin boys who both died on their 16th birthday. It haunted me, how they died and why they both died on their birthday? Did they get a new car for their birthday and have an accident? A swim party turned tragedy? I knew there was a story. Sometimes I feel sad, because I don’t have my own kids to tell my life story to. Everyone deserves to have their story told, and I wanted to know their story. Why did they both die on their 16th birthday?
Decades after last visiting my grandfather’s cemetery, I was on the Internet one night and decided to try to find their story. I did not remember their names or any dates, so I just tried Googling search terms like, “Twins die on their birthday Fort Smith” and so forth but found nothing. I then decided I had to return to the cemetery, find their gravestone, get their names and Google them to find their story. While spending time in nearby Tulsa, Oklahoma this week, I decided now is the time. My mother graciously agreed to make the 100 mile trip, just to search for a tombstone and get the names off it. Well, that is not all we accomplished. My aunt Mary from Gentry Arkansas and her daughter Eva, who both used to live in Fort Smith agreed to meet us in Fort Smith, along with a couple of my mother’s cousins still living in Fort Smith, so we could go to dinner tonight, after visiting the cemetery.
Driving down I was sure we would find it, as I remembered it being near grandpa’s grave. But I had no way to be sure of that. We arrived at the cemetery and started looking around, finding nothing. Then my mother’s cousins arrived. Jeannie, one of her cousins, thinking we were there to find a family grave, told us we were looking in the wrong place. I then told her about my mission, only to find that she had the answer to my age old mystery all along. I didn’t even need Google. I should have just asked Jeannie decades ago.
I told her I was looking for a grave stone for two twin brothers who both died on their 16th birthday. “The Bull boys?” Jeannie asked. “There is a picture on their tombstone.” “Yes!” I said, “That’s it it had pictures on it!” She marched me right over the their grave, which was nowhere close to where I remembered it being. This is where I am now realizing how much I can forget or not remember exactly right after a few decades. On the way to the grave, she told me, they were not twin brothers, they were cousins. I was not sure we were talking about the same boys until we came to the grave and I immediately recognized the pictures. The picture on the left looked very familiar, almost exactly as I had remembered as a child.
It was the same grave but the facts are not exactly as I remembered them. Imagine that! Things are not exactly as I remember them decades later. They were not twin brothers. They were not even brothers, they were cousins. However one of them did die at 16, and the other one did die on his birthday, and they both did indeed die on the same day. No wonder my Google searches were futile. However I did not even need Google to find their story. Cousin Jeannie remembered the grave from her youth, when her and her cousin would explore the cemetery, as it was right by her house. She knew the story too. Donald Joe was in the military and during a leave came to visit. He picked up 16 year old Thomas during school, at Fort Smith Central High School, so he could play hooky, and they would spend the day together. Sadly, after Donald helped Thomas escape from school, their car was hit by a train and they both died. Jeannie was in high school at the time, and while she did not know Thomas personally, she did remember all the other kids talking about it.
So tonight I finally got the story that had been haunting me since childhood. I learned some more valuable lessons in the process. With modern technology and the Internet being a wealth of information, nothing beats people knowledge. Of course the Internet only knows what people tell it. Google is no substitute for people knowledge. The wealth of information on the Internet is no substitute for the wealth of knowledge and experience in the people who are all around us, if we just take the time to talk to them. I did not need to wait for Google to solve this mystery. All the time my cousin Jeannie knew the story, and lived her whole life right there in Fort Smith. All I had to do was ask. (Though to my credit I had mentioned it to my mother and aunt.) The amazing thing is, the gravestone was nowhere close to my grandfather’s grave, so I must have been doing some real exploring when I found it as a child. I never could have found it on my own tonight, but once I mentioned the story to Jeannie, she knew exactly what I was talking about (Even with my misinformation) and marched me right over to the grave. Jeannie knew the grave location and story. I didn’t need Google. (Come to think of it, Jeannie remembered exactly where the grave was, based on her memory as a youth. She must have a better memory than me.)
I learned my memory is not 100% accurate. The information on the tombstones was not exactly how I remembered it as a child, and as I said earlier, the grave location was nowhere near where I remembered it. I remembered it being much closer to my grandfather’s grave. Now I have to be more careful declaring things are exactly as I remember. Though I did remember enough over the last 38 years or so for my cousin to know what I was talking about. Also after all those years the pictures were exactly like I remembered. Especially the one on the left of Thomas.
So the mystery has been solved. Neither Thomas or Donald probably had children to tell their story to, just like I don’t have any children to tell my story to. But tonight we got to share their story. I guess the good news is you don’t have to have children in order to share your story.
Thanks to all you who read my blog and let me tell my stories.
By the way, here is the only website I have found so far with reference to the train wreck.