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Under my hat: A tombstone tale

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    ABOVE: A huge, old American beech tree at Tamaqua Odd Fellows Cemetery has swallowed the 1890s grave of an infant girl, the top of her tombstone visible at lower left.
    BOTTOM RIGHT: A close look at a grave marker embedded in the base of an old beech tree shows that little Linnie Evans lived just seven months. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS

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Published February 22. 2019 12:33PM

It’s an oddity. Sad and peculiar.

Deep in a massive burial ground nicknamed the City of the Dead is the grave of a 7-month-old baby girl.

Through a quirk of nature, her resting place and stone marker have been eternally swallowed by a century-old beech tree.

As many times as I’ve meandered among the 16,000 graves at Tamaqua Odd Fellows Cemetery, I’d never noticed until someone urged me to check it out.

“I told you about it a long time ago,” said a friend. “I’m surprised you never wrote about it.”

My mistake, for sure, because there’s an interesting story to tell. Tombstones nearly always tell tales when we take the time to absorb them and open our mind.

According to the engraving, Linnie Evans was born Oct. 13, 1893. The marker is sunken so I had to dig out a bit of dirt to discover she died May 14, 1894.

I don’t know the cause of death without doing research, but it’s actually common to see many, many graves of small children when you wander through an old cemetery. There’s a good reason why.

In the decades before the 1950s, children often passed away despite inherent health advantages of youth.

The survival rate for youngsters of the 1800s and early 1900s wasn’t the best. Some sources claim 10 percent of children died.

In those days, diseases such as diphtheria, polio, tuberculosis, pneumonia and measles tore through the population and took children at an alarming rate.

When advances in medicine emerged — especially vaccines — health improved and tombstones of young children became less common. This is reality. It’s just the way it is. You’ll notice the pattern when you visit an old burial ground.

And so it goes that old cemeteries, such as 1864 Odd Fellows, provide a profound record of human development.

Sadly, next to Linnie is the grave of Claude Evans. I’m guessing Claude was her brother. And if so, he tragically never knew her. He passed before she existed. Claude was born in 1877, just before Christmas, and lived only to age 14. He died in 1891, again just before Christmas.

Which brings us to the large tombstone of Charles and Margaret Evans, presumably the parents.

Margaret, born 1858, was 19 when she gave birth to her son.

One can only imagine the heartbreak the couple endured when they lost him as a young teen. But they apparently tried again to become parents. Two years after Claude’s death, Linnie was born.

It’s unsettling to think that their joy of being parents once again was short lived. Linnie’s death as a precious infant must have dealt a knockout blow.

Margaret and Charles were forced to shed familiar tears of heartbreak when they laid Linnie to rest beneath a small American beech sapling near the top of the hillside cemetery.

They appear to have spent the final 35 years of marriage with only each other and bittersweet memories of a boy and baby girl lost to seemingly unfair circumstances.

Interestingly, years after the couple passed, nature responded in a tangible, remarkable way.

The small beech sapling, nourished by fertile land and ashes-to-ashes nutrition, grew to become the largest, most impressive tree in the 37 acres of the Victorian garden resting ground.

Enriched by gentle breezes and plenty of sunshine, the majestic beech spread its roots and embraced the family plot, grabbing — with firmest grip — the stone marker of little Linnie Evans.

Today, the infant’s grave site and tombstone can be seen firmly embedded and cradled within the base of the tree high on the hill.

At that peaceful spot, random forces of nature protect Linnie’s eternal rest beneath endless skies.

By Donald R. Serfass



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