Photograph helps solve 20-year-old Comstock tombstone mystery
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
by F.T. Norton
Nevada Appeal Staff Writer
VIRGINIA CITY ” During the years, items stolen from Comstock cemeteries have been returned by thieves for various reasons, said Candace Wheeler, clerk for the Comstock Historic District Commission.
One woman from Oregon mailed back a pillar she’d poached, saying she believed it was cursed and was to blame for her divorce.
Another time, a man said he was cleaning out his garage when he came across items he’d taken years earlier and decided it was time to return them.
However, no such explanation was attached to the things left on the doorstep of the Comstock History Center in mid-January, just a note that read, “From the Gold Hill Cemetery.”
But photos that accompanied the items inadvertently solved a mystery two decades in the making, said Wheeler.
“Ninety-three percent of the time, we can’t replace stolen items because we don’t know where they came from,” said Wheeler. “But that picture, it tells us where she belongs.”
Among the dozen photos left along with the seven rusted wire frames used in memorial wreaths was a photograph of the headstone of Mary A.L. Neville, who died in 1872 at age 33.
In 1989, an unknown thief left Mary’s tombstone outside the Virginia City Courthouse. Since mapping of the old cemeteries was incomplete, historians had no way to know where it belonged.
For 16 years the stone sat in storage. The last three years it was kept at the History Center outside the office of Bert Bedeau, Historic District administrator.
The background in the photograph showed clearly that Mary’s tombstone had once been in the Gold Hill Cemetery near American Flats.
“It was exciting,” said Bedeau of the discovery. “Candace was running around like somebody had made it her birthday. It’s just so rare that we can actually put one of these things back where it belongs.”
After three visits to the dilapidated cemetery near American Flats, Wheeler and History Center commissioner Cal Dillon found Mary’s grave near the east fence alongside the road.
Wheeler said it made sense that Mary’s grave would be close to a road. No one ” not even a thief, she said ” would want to carry a 400-pound tombstone any distance.
Come springtime, said Bedeau, Dillon will repair or recreate a base and then reinstall Mary’s marker.
Though the 2005 legislature made it a felony to steal artifacts from a Nevada cemetery, anything taken can be anonymously returned, he said.
“We’re just happy to have the stuff back. We are certainly not interested in getting medieval on anyone.”
Contact reporter F.T. Norton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1213.
– 93 percent of the items recovered cannot be replaced on the landscapes. There are few maps and records for the cemeteries.
– Silver Terrace Cemetery, the large cemetery at the north end of Virginia City, has 6,000 burial plots, but only 1,200 markers. The other were lost either to decay or theft.
– After installing a fence at the Gold Hill Cemetery in 2004, theft decreased by 89 percent.
Source: Comstock Historic District Commission