Family claims tombstone found under Sparks Street |

Family claims tombstone found under Sparks Street

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

Brad Horn/Nevada appeal Donald McDermott, the son of Mervin Johnson's sister, Mamie, is seen with the tombstone at his Carson City home on Friday evening.

Though the mystery of where his relatives are has been solved, it’s still unclear how Mervin Johnson’s tombstone ended up buried under a Sparks street.

Donald McDermott, 76, the son of Mervin Johnson’s sister, Mamie, is a retired California shipyard worker living in Carson City. He found out about the errant tombstone after reading a Nov. 24 article in the Nevada Appeal.

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, where docent Dick Dreiling took on the job of finding out the history of the man named on the tombstone.

Using census records and newspaper notices, Dreiling compiled many facts of Mervin Johnson’s life, including information on his marriage, children and military service.

He was born to a Manly Johnson, a Dayton freight hauler, and his wife, Mary. Later he lived in Reno, Wabuska and Loyalton, Calif. His siblings moved around throughout Northern Nevada and California. Mervin Johnson died in 1931, the same year as his father.

McDermott contacted Dreiling and picked up the monument the same day he read the article.

Recommended Stories For You

He then traveled to Reno to visit his uncle’s grave and believes the family replaced the tombstone with one signifying Johnson’s military service.

“But I can’t even guess how it got buried,” McDermott said.

The tombstone has helped McDermott learn more about his family history.

“I just found an article that Manly Johnson (Mervin’s father) cut a road from Mound House to Dayton,” he said. “James Fair had a toll road there, so Manly just cut his own road. He took on James Fair.”

Fair was one of the Silver Kings of the Comstock and a very powerful man in the 19th century.

McDermott said that Beryl Anderson, Mervin Johnson’s daughter, is in her 70s and living in Anchorage, Alaska. Mervin’s son, Mervin T. Johnson, died in a plane crash in 1969 while serving in the Air National Guard.

McDermott has spoken to the Historical Society of Dayton Valley and said the tombstone might be placed in the Dayton cemetery alongside Mervin’s parents, or kept in the Dayton museum.

Dreiling said it was satisfying to be able to locate relatives, if not solve the whole mystery.

“Oh, I’m excited,” he said. “I think this is great. We got a family put back together and helped relatives who didn’t even know each other.”

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at or 882-2111 ext. 351.