Outside Looking In
Anyone who knows me is possibly familiar with my annoying habit of not being able to let something go if I don't know the answer. For instance, if I'm having a discussion with someone and I can't think of the name of a certain person, I transform into a contestant on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and I will phone a friend to see if they know the answer. It's usually not that important that I know at that instance, but it still drives me crazy until I figure it out.
I once worked on a story for nearly a year because I was unable to locate all the necessary information I felt I needed, even though others tried to convince me otherwise.
Something that happened to me 13 years centered around trying to figure something out. It still eats at me every day.
On an August evening in 1998, an elderly lady called me at work. She anonymously informed me of something valuable she knew about was hidden in a country church cemetery (I am not disclosing the town or county she told me it was in for fear someone will tear up a cemetery after reading this article).
"I've known you for many years," she said on the phone. "I know you like to dig for a story. So you will literally have to 'dig' for this one."
She then told me to find two trees that had grown so close together that it was pulling a headstone out of the ground. That was all she would say about it, telling me she would call again some day.
I didn't go in search of the headstone because (1) I am a very skeptical person, and (2) even if I found such a place, it is unlawful to just start digging in a cemetery.
About a week passed and I got another call from the lady, asking me if I found the right headstone.
I told her I never looked for it, telling her my reasons for dismissing the adventure.
"I'll narrow it down for you," she said. "It is at a country church cemetery, but the church has not been used in many years."
When I asked her is this was such a valuable item, why didn't she retrieve it herself. It seemed she was reading too many mystery books and one was stuck in her head.
"I tried and I failed," she said.
Yes, this did pique my interest and started my motor running. Not being able to leave things alone, I researched cemeteries of Kandiyohi Country at the historical museum and found there were three church cemeteries in which the church no longer held services. I made a trip to each one just in case more than one had a headstone wedged between two trees.
I found only one that matched her description. I waited for the woman to call back because we didn't have caller ID at my workplace, so I was unable to call her. It wasn't until nearly a month later that I received another call.
I told no one else about this at the time because I thought it might be a prank from a friend. At this time, I was quite certain there was no treasure of any sort, but I was still curious as to where this adventure was going to lead me.
When I told the woman that I had found the headstone, she told me to look for a small carving in the back of the stone that had a two-digit number on it. These instructions went on and on for weeks. Each time she called I begged her to give me all the information at once.
"That would be too easy," she insisted.
I did locate two very small numbers in the upper right side of the back of the tombstone. Skipping ahead, I was told to now find two numbers supposedly written on a lower portion of a wall in the kitchen of the church. Since the church was all locked up, it was impossible to get in. I tried looking at the kitchen wall through one of the windows, but because of the ongoing renovations, there was too much clutter blocking my view. My only chance was to wait until someone was there.
A few weeks later, I drove to the church again and found workers inside. I made up a story that a relative of mine had written their name on the kitchen wall and I wanted to take a photo of it before they painted over it.
Too late. They had already put a new coat of paint on the walls of this very small kitchen. I told the workers that if they would allow me to remove the paint in a certain area of the wall that I would gladly repaint it. They refused, looking at me like I was some sort of a nutcase; which I was starting to believe myself.
When the woman called the next time, I falsely told her that I had discovered all the numbers and asked her what my next move was to be.
The four numbers were the same year as a birth indicated on one of the headstones. The first two numbers were "18", meaning this gravesite belonged to someone born in the 1800s. Funny thing, though, there were no headstones of anyone born prior to 1900.
This cemetery is very small, containing less than 40 headstones. While it's possible a headstone that old could now be covered up or became broken and was removed. Or, this was all a big gag.
The woman never called again. She is either at home still laughing at me or she passed away.
Still, I haven't been able to let it go and I've visited the cemetery several other times in the past few years. I'm not looking because I think I am going to get rich. I'm still looking because of my annoying habit of not being able to let anything go.
My current piece of detective work is to find out the names of the three runaway boys from 1946 that I wrote about last week. I hope this doesn't go on for 13 years.