A monumental mystery
Appeal Staff Writer
Even Sherlock Holmes might have had trouble solving this mystery.
How did the tombstone of a Dayton man, buried in a Reno cemetery, end up buried under a street in Sparks? And where are his descendants who may want to claim the monument?
According to Dick Dreyling, a Sparks Heritage Museum volunteer and genealogy enthusiast, Mervin C. Johnson’s tombstone was discovered in January 2004 by Sparks city workers digging up a corner of El Rancho Drive and Prater Way.
The workers contacted Sparks police, who held the tombstone for two years, in case someone reported it missing. Getting no reports, on Nov. 1, police turned it over to the Sparks Heritage Museum. Dreyling took on the job of finding out the history of the man named on the tombstone.
“I got interested because I do a lot of genealogy, so I checked to see if it was someone who lived in Sparks,” he said.
He found out that Johnson was born in Dayton 111 years ago, and died in 1931 in Loyalton, Calif. He was then buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Reno. In calling the cemetery, Dreyling found that Mervin was buried there, but there was no missing tombstone. The grave had a marker.
“I was told sometimes families change tombstones,” he said.
Checking U.S. Census reports for 1900, Dreyling found that Mervin born April 14, 1895, was the son of Manly Johnson, a Dayton teamster, or freight hauler, and his wife, Mary.
“He was in a very large family, seven boys and two girls,” Dreyling said.
He later found a World War I draft registration card for Mervin, and then an automobile registration for him, indicating the man lived in Wabuska.
Additional research turned up notices in the Reno Evening Gazette announcing the engagement and then the marriage of Mervin Johnson and Gertrude Tailleur of Reno, indicating the couple would live in Loyalton.
“Then I went into the 1920 Census for Loyalton and found them,” he said. “By then they had a son, Mervin, and a daughter, Beryl.
In Loyalton, Mervin worked as a lumberman and Gertrude as a school teacher, Dreyling said.
Mervin’s death was reported Nov. 7, 1931, in Nevada State Journal. Ironically, his father, Manly, died the same year.
“I found an article about Mervin dying,” Dreyling said. “It said in the article he had contracted influenza in World War I and was never real healthy after that, and he went to a sanitarium in Livermore, Calif., and that’s what he died.”
Dreyling said the obituary reported that in addition to his wife and two children, he was survived by his mother, two sisters and five brothers. Mervin was a member of the Loyalton Lodge of F&AM.
Checking the Sparks 1920 Census, Dreyling found 12 Johnsons living in Sparks, but none of them seemed to match the names of Mervin’s family.
He found a 1944 article that indicated Gertrude Johnson, who had remained in Loyalton and married Benjamin Gottardi, died there. Her obituary lists her daughter, Beryl, and her son, Mervin, of the U.S. Army Air Corps. It also mentioned a sister, Mrs. Grace Caffrey.
Dreyling contacted the Historical Society of Dayton Valley, where member Linda Clements located Mervin’s father’s grave in the Dayton cemetery, along with a grave for a sister Annie Amanda, who died when she was 11. Clements said the society would like to find relatives of the Johnson family, to see if they want to reclaim the tombstone.
“I’m wondering might it have been vandalized many years ago, and would the family want it back,” she said. “So we have to try and find descendants.”
The tombstone is polished granite, 8 inches thick, 2 feet long and 12 inches high, with no apparent damage, Clements said.
Dreyling would also like to find relatives. “They’re really the ones who should decide what to do with this.”
• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 882-2111 ext. 351.
Looking for relatives
If you are a descendant of, or know of any family for, Mervin C. Johnson of Dayton, call the Sparks Heritage Museum at 355-1144.