OK, I promised I would finish the story on why we drove from Virginia City through Six Mile Canyon to Dayton that October Day in 2007 (see my previous posting here on the Monochrome Madness Road theme). We went to Dayton because I wanted to take a picture of an old tombstone in the Dayton Cemetery.
Here’s the short story: I found the tombstone and I took the picture. Here it is:
Click on either photo to see a larger version of that photo.
And now for the long story: A Dayton High School student named Michelle Richardson decided to write her Spring local-history research paper on someone who died long ago and was buried at the local cemetery. The headstone that got most of her attention on the day she visited the cemetery was that of Charles L Shepardson who died in 1874. She was curious about how Charles, who was born in Maine 31 years before his death, ever got to Dayton and how he died at such a young age. She also wondered about the tassels on each side of the headstone and the poem inscribed followed by the name H. H. Muckle and the word Virginia. She thought Muckle might have written the poem and the tassels may have signified that Charles was a pastor.
A staff writer for the Nevada Appeal named Maggie O’ Neill picked up the story about Michelle’s project and how she researched her project at the Nevada State Library and Archives. Michelle discovered that Charles Shepardson died in an accident when he was crushed by a cart full of ore near the then unfinished Sutro Tunnel.
Maggie published her story in the Appeal on June 5, 2005 under the headline “The Case of the Two-tasseled Headstone” and my cousin Claire who lives in Carson City sent it to me, knowing that I had done a lot of research on my Muckles of Virginia City. I contacted Maggie and told her a little about my great grandfather’s brother Hugh. No, he was not a poet. Rather, he was the mason who carved the headstone. The “Virginia” after his name referred to Virginia City where he lived for many years and where he carved many headstones. You can still spot some of them in various cemeteries on and near the Comstock Lode because he liked to sign his own name to them. I don’t know the significance of the tassels but they are on some of his other tombstones, too. He also liked to carve weeping willow trees and sheep on his headstones.
Hugh grew up in a place called Ballycopeland on the Ards Peninsula of County Down in what is now Northern Ireland. His father, also named Hugh, was a hackler in the flax-linen business who died at an early age and Hugh went to live in a cottage next to Muckle relatives close to the famous Ballycopeland windmill. One of his relatives, Ann Jane Muckle, was married to a man named Samuel Gibson who taught Hugh and his brothers James and Tom how to work with stone. Hugh most likely learned how to carve the tassels and the dove from Gibson. The headstone he carved for Charles Shepardson looks a lot like those you will find in any Presbyterian churchyard in County Down.
Hugh left Ireland in the 1860s and ended up in Virginia City where he started his business of carving headstones. Soon he was joined by his two younger brothers. It didn’t take long for the brothers to acquire a reputation for rowdiness. Often one of the three would be mentioned in a newspaper article having to do with brawls and drunkenness.
Hugh left Virginia City in the mid 1870s and headed eastward following the latest silver strike. I found him in Kingston in 1880 and Cherry Creek in 1890. By 1900 he was living in Idaho under a doctor’s care. That’s where he died in 1911.
James left Virginia City for San Francisco and got a job there working in a quarry. One night in 1889 he fell into the bay and drowned.
Tom became a building contractor. His specialty was building boilers and retorts for processing gold and silver ore. He married a girl from Ireland named Bessie Gallagher and the two had eight children including my grandmother Margaret. The family lived for a time in Bodie (see my posting here on my Muckles of Bodie) and also in Carson City but Tom spent most of his life in Virginia City where he died in 1922. Bessie then moved to San Francisco to live with her sons Joe and Harry and she died there in 1929. Margaret and her husband Joe Kenny also moved to San Francisco in 1925 with their youngest daughter Audley who was then 15 years old. After high school Audley attended the University of California in Berkeley where she met Don Dwyer. They married in 1936 and had six children, including me.
Three of my major interests in life are travel, photography and family history. And those are the three reasons why I wrote this blog posting.
Tomorrow I’ll get back to our travels in Scotland.
PS — Remember the 1961 movie The Misfits starring Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Montgomery Clift? It was written by Arthur Miller and directed by John Huston. And it was filmed in and around Dayton. Gable died soon after the movie was completed and Monroe died a year later.