Mystery set in stone

How did apparent W. Va. grave marker wind up in Owings Mills?

July 28, 2006|By JOSH MITCHELL AND KRISTI FUNDERBURK | JOSH MITCHELL AND KRISTI FUNDERBURK,SUN REPORTERS

TUCKER COUNTY, W. Va. -- An old family cemetery five miles from where the pavement ends is the final resting place of Jacob and Sarah Kalar, husband and wife and early settlers of a patch of mountain so rustic that it's now a national forest.

There's another grave nearby - but the tombstone is missing.

And that plot, believed to hold the remains of a son who died as an infant, might be the key to solving a riddle that has emerged 150 miles to the east in suburban Baltimore. A 19th-century tombstone was found not long ago near a road in northwest Baltimore County, and no one was sure where it had come from.

"You almost feel like sitting down and crying," Roberta Kalar, 66, said yesterday upon seeing a granite slab with the family name on a table at the public library in Reisterstown. "It's just a mystery as to how it got here and why it was taken."

Kalar might never have known about the missing tombstone - much less that it could be in Maryland - if someone hadn't called Baltimore County police in May to say there was a stone marker near Bonita Avenue in Owings Mills.

Police checked with area cemeteries, but none reported any missing tombstones or vandalism that could explain the tombstone's origin.

The department handed the tombstone over to a genealogical expert at a county library. Library volunteer Doris Hoffman assembled a team whose first clue came from the faded engravings on the stone.

The engraving reads: "PAUL F., Son of J & S Kalar, Died May 28, 1848, aged 6 mos."

A tombstone expert in California found that a Paul F. Kalar was the son of Jacob and Sarah R. Kalar, who, according to records at the Five Rivers Public Library in the Tucker County seat of Parsons, were among the first to settle the rugged region. At least one genealogical record showed that that Paul Kalar died in 1842, but the day of the year was also listed as May 28.

A sheriff from a nearby county, after being contacted by a reporter, called Roberta Kalar. She checked her family records and found that her husband is a fifth-generation descendant of Jacob Kalar, who died in 1863.

Twice this week, she visited a small graveyard several miles from her home in the mountains of Tucker County, population 6,943, with one stoplight and one McDonald's.

To get to the cemetery, she had to turn off the main road in Parsons, drive through a neighborhood of mobile homes and take a twisting gravel road that hugs a mountain and overlooks a muddy river.

The graveyard is surrounded by a wire fence, with a wooden arc engraved with "Kalar Cemetery" over the entrance.

There are at least 20 plots, many but not all of them for Kalars. Some go back into the 1800s. The newest is for a 19-year-old woman who died within the past year.

Many of the plots have stones at both the head and foot of the grave. There are headstones and footstones for Jacob and Sarah Kalar, and there's a footstone with the initials "P.F.K." at a grave next to them. What looks to be only the bottom of a headstone is flush with the ground, and partly covered in moss.

Elmer Carr, who has owned the cattle farm that includes the cemetery for 60 years, said he's sure that spot once had a marker. "I've seen the baby's tombstone there," said Carr, 82, as he leaned on a branch that he used as a walking stick. "Why would somebody take something like that?"

Several other tombstones in the grave, including Sarah Kalar's, have cracked and tipped over.

Roberta Kalar, a child care provider, said many people camp in the woods and ride their bikes on nearby trails, and she wondered whether teenagers stole Paul Kalar's headstone.

If there's one thing that brings pause to the idea that the tombstone in Baltimore came from the Kalar Cemetery, it's that Roberta Kalar's family tree shows that Paul F. Kalar was born in 1841.

A Kalar relative suggested that someone at some point mistook a "7" for a "1" - meaning that if the child had been born in November 1847, he would have been six months old on May 28, 1848, the date on the tombstone.

Yesterday, Roberta Kalar and her husband, Aaron, drove from their home to his cardiologist appointment in Baltimore, then to the library in Reisterstown.

Aaron Kalar measured the tombstone: 12 inches wide and 2 inches thick. The size matched measurements Roberta made on the tombstone base at the Kalar Cemetery.

But the question that remains unanswered is: How did the tombstone get to Baltimore County. One Owings Mills resident believes it might have been there for as long as five years.

Lisa Myers said that not long after she moved to a home on Bonita Avenue, she saw a dirt-covered headstone in a small wooded area nearby and thought that it might be marking an old grave.

Hoffman, the genealogist at the library, said she wants to be absolutely sure that the tombstone belongs in Tucker County. She still wonders about the difference in dates on the headstone and in the genealogical records, and she wants to interview others who might have information.

"If it comes to push and shove, it definitely should go down there," Hoffman said, referring to West Virginia. "I definitely have a strong feeling, but I'm not convinced."

But Roberta Kalar said yesterday that after measuring the marker, she was satisfied that at least part of the puzzle had been solved.

Aaron Kalar said: "I just want to try to help get it back to where it belongs."

kristi.funderburk@baltsun.com

josh.mitchell@baltsun.com

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