By Reggie Ellis
Of the things you might expect to find buried in a backyard are toys, tools or maybe even a dearly departed dog. Headstones are definitely not among them, but that is what Fernando and Frances Gomez found in their backyard about three weeks ago.
The retired couple had just moved to their home on B Street in November, the weekend before Thanksgiving, after living in the Los Angeles area for 38 years. Looking for a place somewhere between their children and grandchildren in Sacramento and Los Angeles they decided on Exeter after having met nice people each of the times they had visited.
"The weekend we moved in we didn't have the gas turned on for the heater and some people brought over fire wood and some freshly baked scones," Frances said. "That was our first introduction to life in Exeter."
Several months later, the Gomez' youngest daughter, Tamera Fernandez, and her son, Daniel, followed them to Exeter. About three weeks ago, Daniel offered to help dig up some old broken water pipes for an old fountain and bird pond system to make some extra cash for the summer months. When the EUHS sophomore's shovel began hitting a concrete slab he turned it over and discovered the name George Dooley engraved with his date of birth and death. Not quite the scene from "Poltergeist" where the family discovers its home was built on a sacred Native American burial ground, but still disturbing.
"It's very creepy," Frances said. "They are probably mistakes, but it is still creepy."
After more digging Daniel uncovered a total of eight headstones. Frances said her first thought was that someone had desecrated several graves, but after looking them over more carefully they may have been throwaways or mistakes. One headstone with the name Thomas Daniel Butts had a date of birth, Jan. 21, 1995, but no date of death. Another had no inscription and was completely blank.
Still another headstone bore the name Jose Alberto Velasquez. Just an infant, Velasquez was born Aug. 6, 1995 and died on Jan. 6, 1996. Exeter Cemetery District Manager Roy Nelson said Velasquez was buried in the cemetery in 1996 and the headstone remains there today. According to cemetery records, none of the others were buried in the Exeter Cemetery.
The other six headstones read the following: Irene Berube Favreau, 1926-1996; Truman and Clara Buff, 1906-1996 and 1908-1991 respectively; George Dooley, 1932-1995; Luciano B. doCanto, 1986-1996; Alfred Gaspar Jr., Aug. 6, 1985 to Oct. 25, 1985.
Finding headstones is more common than most would think. In the June 30 issue of the Portage Daily Record it was reported that a woman found a headstone buried in her bushes in the backyard of her Pardeeville, Wis. home.
Visalia Granite and Marble, which makes about 90 percent of the headstones in Exeter Cemetery, said the few mistakes that are made are sent to be crushed into decomposed granite once every two to three years. However, on occasion people do approach the company about taking damaged gravemarkers to use as stepping stones in the back yard.
"Just stones, no bones," Frances said.
A June 28 New York Times article talked about how "loads of headstones" were discovered "mixed in with run-of-the-mill construction debris at a sprawling waterfront landfill on the northern tip of College Point, Queens." The site, which is slated for development, became a landfill in 1963 and was used to discard replaced headstones from the nearby cemetery.
Anyone who is related to or knows any of those named on the headstones and would like them can contact The Exeter Sun at 592-3171.