Left to right, Community Services Consortium workers Dave Petts, Marcus Eveler and Dallas Hanthorn and Benton county employee Shane Galloway carry a grave marker found in Crystal Lake to a waiting ATV on Thursday morning. The marker belongs to Richard C. Johnson, who died in 1870. (Andy Cripe | Gazette-Times)
Story courtesy of Corvallis Gazette-Times By Rachel Beck, Gazette-Times reporter | Posted: Friday, February 5, 2010 7:00 am.
It sounds like one of those misty recollections from childhood, one straddling the line of certainty between reality and dream: When he was 12 years old, Tim Smartt saw a tombstone sticking out of the murky waters of Crystal Lake.
"I was really creeped out," remembered Smartt, now 37.
But as it goes with childhood memories, he soon forgot all about it.
Thursday, the memory was revived - and a link was reconnected with Corvallis' early history. But that's getting ahead of the story.
A few weeks ago, Smartt, his son Isaac, and his friend Walden Burt were exploring the area around the slough, which borders pioneer Crystal Lake Cemetery. Smartt flashed back to his eerie boyhood experience and wondered if it was possible that the grave marker he remembered was still in the water. After chopping through brambles to the water, to his surprise, he found something sticking out of the water.
Smartt and Burt returned with a rowboat to get a closer look. In the eerie, swampy lake, it stood: a moss-covered marble grave obelisk, about 3 feet high, missing its decorative top.
"It was pretty spooky, actually," Smartt said.
Smartt wanted to find out to which grave in the cemetery the marker belonged. He called the Benton County Natural Areas and Parks Department, which took ownership of Crystal Lake Cemetery in 2001. For the 141 years before then, the Corvallis Masonic Lodge No. 14 had operated the cemetery, which was established in 1860.
Thursday morning, county employees and a crew from the Community Services Consortium came out to remove the obelisk from Crystal Lake. While workers prepared to move the marble obelisk, which stood exposed in the shallow lake, Smartt and Isaac wandered across the lake bed. Suddenly Smartt gave a yell: They'd just discovered the grave marker that probably went with the obelisk.
Once the mud was cleaned off, excitement grew. The striated white marble square, about 18 inches high, wide and tall, read "Richard C. Johnson, M.D. Born Mar. 29, 1831, died July 26, 1870."
"This was a surprise," said Al Kitzman, Benton County parks superintendent, as he inspected the find.
The marker was about 40 feet from the obelisk; a concrete block, which might be the base for both pieces, was another 20 feet or so up the west side of the embankment that borders the cemetery. "It probably came down here the same time the obelisk came down here," Kitzman said. "How that obelisk got way over there is a mystery."
It took several people to lift the obelisk, which weighed a few hundred pounds, into an ATV trailer. To move the inscribed marker, metal rods were strapped into an "X" atop the stone, so four people could grasp the rods and carry it to the ATV. Both pieces were taken to a county storage area for further inspection.
By the end of the day, more about Dr. Richard C. Johnson also had emerged.
Mary Gallagher, collections manager at the Benton County Historical Society, said documents show Johnson was born in Missouri. In 1863, he married Florence Avery, the daughter of Corvallis founder J.C. Avery. The couple had four children: Robert, Ethel, George and Esther.
Gallagher said an 1860 census form lists Johnson's occupation as "druggist."
In "History of Corvallis, 1846-1900," Bruce Martin writes that by 1861, a Dr. R.C. Johnson had opened an office in the city.
So how did his tombstone end up in Crystal Lake?
Smartt was concerned the stones had been taken from a grave by vandals, or washed down the embankment in a flood. He wondered if the doctor had been lying in an unmarked grave for decades.
But Judy Juntenen said that Johnson does have a headstone. Juntenen, a former research librarian for the historic society who has surveyed the cemetery, was able to check records Thursday and discover that Johnson now shares a marker with his wife, Florence.
Florence remarried after Johnson's death, and her marker has a different last name, but she apparently chose to be buried with Johnson. Her family, the Averys, also are buried in Crystal Lake Cemetery.
Juntenen thinks the marker must have been replaced sometime after Florence died in 1928. It's possible the old tombstone was just thrown down the embankment as a quick and easy means of disposal.
"It's in really remarkably good condition," she said. "There are fractures on the shaft, but that's not terribly unusual considering that it's probably been down there for some time."
She has just started researching Johnson and said she plans to continue trying to find where the long-missing piece of marble fits into the Avery family history.
Posted in Local on Friday, February 5, 2010 7:00 am Updated: 11:45 pm.