Cemetery Crawl – Fred Rowe’s tombstone goes home again
By Linda Jones
Sometimes a stolen tombstone can go home again. Fred Rowe was buried in 1914 and an impressive tombstone was provided for his gravesite. Sometime in the 20th century, vandals broke off the top part of the stone and transported it back to the Denver area, heaven only knows for what reason.
Earlier this year, John Hatfield, a driver for a recycling firm, spotted the tombstone in his last truckload of the day. Hatfield said he was ready to drive up the ramp and dump the load into the compactor when something told him to investigate. Checking the load closely, he saw the corner of the granite stone and called to some other workers nearby to help him move it to his personal truck.
After saving the stone, Hatfield and two of his longtime friends, Dave Main and Art Hill, used the Internet to track the original burial site of Fred Rowe. When they learned the stone belonged in the Knights of Pythias cemetery in Central City, one of the six cemeteries at the end of Eureka Street, they contacted Gilpin County Clerk Colleen Stewart.
Stewart in turn contacted the Gilpin History organization and plans were made for the stone to be returned to Central City in February to a temporary location en route to its final destination. The ground is too hard for digging in winter and the group chose Washington Hall as the temporary resting place for Fred’s stone; there a group from Gilpin History met the trio with the stone and together the men wrestled it up the stairs and into the Hall.
Sunday, Aug. 4, was the day set for the re-dedication of the tombstone at the Knights of Pythias cemetery. A funeral procession of several cars followed the car with the tombstone slowly up Eureka Street to the cemetery. A crowd of 20 people, the majority in Victorian dress, gathered at the Rowe gravesite to honor Fred, who was buried not far from the impressive arched gate into the cemetery. Fred lived from 1869 – 1914.
After the tombstone was lifted onto a dolly and wheeled into the cemetery to rest beside the base it was separated from years ago, Jimmy Stewart played hymns on his accordion to begin the solemn ceremony. The Centennial Knights of Pythias lodge is the statewide Pythian organization and their Secretary Bill Robinson gave a brief history of the lodge in America and Gilpin County.
The Knights of Pythias are the only lodge formed by an act of Congress and two of the earliest lodges in Colorado Territory were the Black Hawk lodge #4, and the Central City lodge #5. Robinson was followed by Pastor Jim Harris, dressed in his circuit-rider suit from the 19th century, who gave a prayer. (As the interim pastor of St. James Methodist Church in Central City, Harris normally wears a robe.) Pastor Harris led the group in the Lord’s Prayer, and the ceremony closed with Chuck Roberts playing Taps on his cornet.
The group lingered after the official ceremony and heard from Hatfield how he discovered the tombstone. Stewart shared the discovery of little Mabel’s tombstone in her house when she purchased it and the story of the re-dedication of that tombstone in a similar ceremony in the same cemetery. The group drifted over to Mabel’s tombstone and then walked other paths in the cool, forested burial ground. Because the base stone for Fred’s returned tombstone tilts rather precipitously, the men plan a future gathering – with the proper equipment – when they’ll raise it and attach the returned upper half.
The annual Cemetery Crawl produced by Gilpin History will be in the Knights of Pythias cemetery in 2014, which is also the Pythian’s 150th anniversary. The story of Fred Rowe will be included in the Tombstone Tales next year.