Tombstone from Central City cemetery found in Denver

And returned for Rededication ceremony

By Lynn Volkens

When long-ago Gilpin County resident Fred Rowe died in 1914, his family and friends respectfully laid his remains to rest not far from the arched gate at the entrance to the Knights of Pythias Cemetery west of Central City. Family members and friends probably visited Fred’s grave to leave flowers and pay their respects. They erected a dignified tombstone to mark his grave for eternity, and relied upon the decency of their fellow man to leave it there. How then, did part of Fred Rowe’s headstone end up en route to a Denver dump earlier this year? Could it have been, as with other markers from several of Gilpin County’s historical cemeteries, that it was stolen away to become part of some out-of-towner’s yard sculpture? Well, no matter how it got to Denver, the good news is that the stone has found its way  home and once more rests at the head of Fred Rowe’s grave.

The partial tombstone was recovered by John Hatfield, a Denver recycling company driver who spotted the unusual item just before dumping the last load of the day into the compactor. He retrieved it, researched the name engraved upon it, and contacted Gilpin County Clerk & Recorder Colleen Stewart to see if she could help. She could. Having determined where the stone belonged, Hatfield, with the help of a couple of his high school friends, Dave Main and Art Hill, delivered the tombstone to Central City last February and it was carefully stored away in Washington Hall until warmer weather and a suitable replacement event could be organized. (Stewart, a member of the Gilpin Historical Society, is no stranger to stories of lost tombstones. Several years ago, after purchasing a home in Central City, she’d taken charge of a tombstone found in the crawlspace of the home and organized a rededication ceremony to re-set it on the infant’s grave where it belonged. It was believed that a former owner of the home had rescued that stone and intended to restore it.) Several members of the Historical Society had participated in that rededication. They came through for Fred Rowe, as well. Just after church on Sunday morning, August 4, 2013, members of the Gilpin Historical Society and others arranged to re-set Fred Rowe’s headstone with a simple and solemn ceremony to dignify its return.

More than twenty people attended the rededication of Fred Rowe’s tombstone. Some were members of the Historical Society who dressed in Victorian costume for the event. Several parishioners of St. James Methodist Church, learning why their friends were dressed so “oddly” for church, volunteered to help load the stone into a vehicle and transport it from Washington Hall to the cemetery. They were followed by five more cars carrying well-wishers in a quasi-funeral procession up Eureka Street to the cemetery district. Hatfield was among them, as were two members of the Knights of Pythias Centennial Lodge, Bill Robinson and Terry Jones. Robinson provided some background about the Knights of Pythias fraternal organization. It was formed by an act of Congress in 1864. The lodge in Black Hawk was the fourth to be established in Colorado and the one in Central City was fifth. Jimmy Stewart brought his accordion and played hymns. Reverend Jim Harris offered a prayer; those attending joined him in reciting the Lord’s Prayer. Chuck Roberts played Taps. Several of the men talked of returning at a later date, with tools and equipment to raise and level the tilted base of the tombstone. For now, the two pieces of the monument are reunited and visitors to the cemetery can clearly read that it marks the resting place of Fred Rowe, born 1869, died 1914.

After the ceremony, several of the locals lingered to walk among the headstones. Out-of-towners visiting the cemetery might have wondered at their dress. Those who know about the Historical Society’s annual “Cemetery Crawl” wouldn’t have thought the Victorian costumes out of place; it’s a common sight every August. This year marks the Society’s 25th year for the event, which will be held at the Independent Order of Odd Fellows (IOOF) Cemetery in Russell Gulch. There, re-enactors (members of the Society, in period dress), will relate “first-hand” the stories of the people who lie buried in the cemetery or who were important to the area’s history. The Society contacts families for permission before including an ancestor in the Crawl; family stories passed down add details and personality to the presentations. Because the event is handled so respectfully (costumed guides keep folks on the paths and the kind of people who are interested in the activity are conscientious about not walking on graves), attendees sometimes ask how to have a locally buried ancestor of theirs included in the next Crawl. The families are pleased to be featured and the Society benefits by acquiring family histories from descendants. Perhaps Fred Rowe will be featured in the 2014 Cemetery Crawl. It is scheduled to take place in the Knights of Pythias Cemetery in honor of the lodge’s 150th Anniversary.

In commemoration of the Cemetery Crawl’s “Silver Anniversary,” the Historical Society is giving away a vial of silver with every 25th ticket purchased in advance. Advance tickets can be purchased by calling 303-582-5283($10) or at the gate on the day of the event ($12). Parking is available at the cemetery or at the Teller House Parking Lot with shuttle service to the cemetery beginning at 10 a.m. The tour lasts about an hour and a half and takes place rain or shine-or snow.

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