History stolen: Family home is stripped of memories

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DAYTON - Polly Burke, 80, sorts through what remains of her belongings, a look of exhaustion on her face.

Wandering from spot to spot in the four-room home on Silver and Gate streets in Old Town Dayton Saturday, Polly points to places in the dust where a beer stein collection once rested. She notes the empty nails in the walls where pictures once hung that chronicled at least 140 years of her family's history in Dayton.

During the first week of December, someone entered Polly's family home and stole her memories in the form of furniture, decades-old family photographs and glassware. They rifled through the closets and cupboards and drawers and took only what they deemed valuable.

"The things they took aren't really worth anything. They may sell well, but won't sell for a lot," Polly said. Furniture, glassware, linens, a tool box with old tools that Polly's daughter Patty Burke-Lemons used.

"I had the shabbiest old bunch of tools you've ever seen in your life to hold this house together, but they stole all my tools," Patty said.

They took picture after picture that hung on the now-sloping walls of the family home.

Living in Reno, Polly, Patty and her children make the journey to Dayton regularly. They visit the Dayton Cemetery on the hill to take flowers to the graves of six generations of family and to garden in the yard of the home, tending to the rose bushes that line the fence.

At night they would converge inside and visit. Polly would sleep in the one bedroom and Patty and her children shared the fold-out sofa in the living room.

"It's been that way for years," Polly says, "No matter what was going on in my life, I always knew I could come here and feel safe."

But that safety was shattered by the burglary.

"Now I think we will just clean up and put the house on the market," she said.

The motivation of the bandits is unknown, other than money. "They stole these things to sell them," Patty said, then thinking of her father Ken Burke, who passed away in 1990, adds, "I am glad my father died before this happened, this would have broken his heart."

"I can't even begin to describe how I feel."

On Dec. 4, Polly, Patty and Dustin, Patty's 4-year-old son, came to Dayton to deliver flowers to the cemetery on their yearly journey before Christmas. Before heading up the hill they stopped at the house, Patty first noticed the fence in the backyard was down.

"So I walked over and put the fence up, and when I got along the side of the house, I saw the window screen leaning against the sagebrush and as soon as I saw the screen I knew somebody had broken in," she said.

By this time Polly was making her way around to the front of the house and discovered the front door was unlocked. Patty was in the backyard still trying to get the padlock on the door open, but her key didn't work, the lock didn't belong to them. As Polly entered the front of the house she saw the table in the corner missing, "I knew right away we had been robbed," she said.

In the middle of the living room floor sat the 20-year-old television, but the stand it was on was gone. A Tiffany-style lamp was missing, the shelf that held the grandchildren's toys had also been taken, its contents dumped into a pile on the floor. Her husband had built shelving that covered the north wall in the living room to hold his beer steins. All that remained on the shelf were the rings in the dust where the mugs once sat.

All that was left on the wall was a series of decorator plates above the bedroom door. "I guess they didn't like Norman Rockwell," Polly said of the reproductions.

In the bathroom a chest of drawers was missing, its contents carted off. The dresser held towels and pictures.

"Pictures of my father as a Reno police officer, the only ones we had of that era of his life," Patty said. "The things that they stole have no value, they'll throw half of it away, but to us the value was huge."

Missing from the corner of the dining room was a card table salvaged from Dayton's Union Hotel. Books lay strewn about the home, discarded because as Polly said, "Thieves don't usually steal books."

"Thirty years we've had it sitting here just the way it was - and then this," Patty said.

Polly crossed the street to go to the Sheriff's Department to report the crime and although the officer was sympathetic, there wasn't much he could offer in the way of recovering the items.

"Unfortunately even in a small town like Dayton, nothing is safe anymore," Patty said.

Polly feels violated and sad. She grew up in this house and has visited it religiously for the past 75 years. It was willed to her when her aunt died. Her aunt raised her since she was three when Polly's own mother died. The house is in disrepair, no one in the family has the money to fix it.

"If I had the money, I would love to restore this house and put an alarm system in. None of us wants to lose the house, but we just can't do anything about it," Patty said. Without some sort of alarm system, she fears even if they did refurnish the home, they could be hit again,

"We don't have the money to do anything about it so - it's gone," Patty said.

A tarnished nickel lay on the steps leading into the back of the home. "You know what that is, I'll bet that's from that green teapot you had on the drainboard," Polly said as Patty held it in her hand.

"Oh God, I forgot about that, it had all kinds of coin in it,"Patty replied, "You're probably right Mom, they probably dropped it carrying it out."

Anyone with information relating to this crime is encouraged to call the Lyon County Sheriff's Department at 246-6200.


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