Gravestone discovered under sidewalk as work continues in Chatfield

SUBMITTED PHOTO Three men unearthed a gravestone from in front of the Chatfield Body Shop last week as construction workers were demolishing old sidewalks. James Wagoner of Owatonna, center, said he was digging out part of the grade when he struck what he initially thought was a piece of concrete. As he dug more, he discovered it was actually a tombstone. From left are Dominic Stephas of Chatfield, Wagoner and Chandler Ericksen of Chatfield, who helped dig out the tombstone.

SUBMITTED PHOTO The gravestone turned out to belong to Almira Caw, who is buried in the Chatifeld cemetery. No one is sure how the stone got buried under the sidewalk.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

A rolling stone gathers no moss, and as it turns out, neither does one under the sidewalk. A gravestone, currently sitting on a wooden dolly at the front of the Chatfield Body Shop, on the corner of Main Street in downtown Chatfield, was discovered last week under one of the sidewalks being replaced as part of the Highway 52 road construction project.

“It happened last Friday, right where the new cement is now. They came in here and said that they had found a gravestone, and that’s when the work came to a complete halt,” recounted Bill Burk, from the Chatfield Body Shop.

James Wagoner of Owatonna was working with a construction crew carrying out demolition of the old sidewalk on the east side of Chatfield’s business sector. He was shoveling out part of the grade when his shovel glanced off a more solid piece of ground. Wagoner thought it was just a piece of concrete, so he dug down underneath it, only to discover that it was the gravestone missing from late Chatfield resident Almira Caw’s grave in the local cemetery.

He showed his find to Dominic Stephas and Chandler Ericksen, both of Chatfield, who were also busy on the street and in the body shop, after which Burk was informed of the marker’s unearthing. They placed it on the dolly and brought it into the shop, at which time the crew and Burk thought to contact state officials about it having been removed from beneath the sidewalk.

Burk suspects that the marker is granite because it appears to be and has survived years underground still intact. It bears the words, “Almira Caw, wife of Joseph Caw, Born February 23, 1831, Died April 30, 1879,” as well as bouquets of oak leaves etched into the top of the four-peaked spire. The oak leaves, according to the blog, are a reminder of one’s strength, as it noted, “The mighty oak is a symbol of strength, honor, steadfastness and immortality. Furthermore, the acorn is a symbol of life, fertility and immortality.”

Passersby became curious about it as well, lending their knowledge of the cemetery presently having a stone in place for the Caws, who had children and grandchildren who lived in and left Chatfield years ago. The information supplied suggests that Almira Murphy Caw’s great-granddaughter is Virginia Caw Kremer, who still lives in Chatfield, though she has stated that she does not remember her great-grandparents because they were deceased before she was born. Further research through suggests that Almira and Joseph’s son, Warner Caw, was Virginia Kremer’s grandfather, and Elmer Caw was Almira and Joseph’s grandson.

Burk stated, “There’s supposed to be a stone out there for this person. I don’t know if someone stole it and threw it in the street, or if it was used for fill or what, but the guys on the cement crew said this was the first time they’d ever had that happen. I called Ginny Kremer down here, and she wondered if this was her grandparents’ brother’s wife, but if anybody else was a Caw, I don’t know. The name’s been around here for a while.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) cultural resources department is reviewing the information regarding discovery of grave markers, while Burk shared, “The lady from the state said that as long as they weren’t going to dig any deeper, they did not have to worry about it. If they did dig any deeper, the state would have to bring in some forensic person. It’s been there quite a while.”

For now, the unearthed stone has yet to acquire any moss, but if the advice of some of the people who stopped by the body shop is taken and it is returned to the cemetery from whence it came, Almira just might have more than one marker bidding her adieu and happy rest.