Grave mystery is at last put to rest

Found in Owings Mills, tombstone of baby who died in 1848 returns to West Virginia

November 03, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,sun reporter

Doris Hoffman still doesn't know how a tombstone apparently marking the grave of an infant who died in West Virginia in the 19th century ended up in suburban Baltimore. But yesterday, as the granite cemetery stone was lifted into the trunk of a car and headed across state lines, the library volunteer felt certain about where it was going.


A couple, believed by several genealogists to be ancestors of the child, came to retrieve the tombstone from its temporary resting place on the second floor of the Reisterstown Library. Aaron and Roberta Kalar said they hope to return the stone to the child's grave, which is next to his parents' plot in a small cemetery in Tucker County, W.Va., this month.

"He's not lost in history anymore," said Hoffman. "We're thrilled to be able to give it back to the family."

The tombstone was discovered this spring near Bonita Avenue in Owings Mills by someone who called Baltimore County police. Officers checked with area cemeteries - and none was missing a stone. Police turned the tombstone over to the genealogical experts gathered by Hoffman at the library.

The stone, 12 inches wide by 27 inches high, is engraved "Paul F., Son of J & S Kalar, Died May 28, 1848, aged 6 mos." Beneath that, a short poem about the child being an angel returned to heaven is chiseled in faded italics.

A tombstone expert in California found that the child was the son of Jacob and Sarah R. Kalar, who, according to records at a West Virginia library, were among the first to settle in the mountainous region about 150 miles west of Baltimore. A sheriff from West Virginia, who had been told about the tombstone by a reporter, contacted Roberta Kalar, who checked her husband's family records and found that he is a fifth-generation descendant of Jacob Kalar.

Aaron Kalar, a retired U.S. Park Service manager, and Roberta don't often stop at the cemetery, which is secluded and several miles from their home. They said they weren't sure when the tombstone was taken.

"By the time I checked, moss had already started to grow over it," Roberta Kalar, a 66-year-old day care provider, said of the spot where the stone had been.

Still, she and the other genealogists weren't immediately sure that the tombstone found in Baltimore County was the missing one of the child. A family tree researched by one of Aaron Kalar's cousins showed that a Paul F. Kalar was born in 1841, for example. But a relative pointed out that if someone at some point had mistaken a "7" for a "1" the date on the tombstone would match correctly.

Hoffman was hoping for more evidence. The measurement of the indentation left in the ground and the tombstone match. Then, Hoffman said, a local stone expert confirmed that the stone was West Virginia granite, offering further proof.

Additionally, family records show that Jacob and Sarah's parents were born and buried in Western Maryland, which confirms research that Hoffman's team had done.

Satisfied that the origins of the tombstone had been discovered, Hoffman said that she was eager to return the stone.

"The fascinating thing was that everybody brought a piece to the puzzle," said Hoffman, a retired elementary school teacher.

Baltimore County police said yesterday that they had no new information about how the tombstone may have ended up in Owings Mills. And Hoffman said she had no proof, either.

The Kalars made the three-hour journey yesterday, hoping to return the marker to the cemetery before it snows.

"I feel relieved," said Roberta Kalar. "I'm glad it will be back in its place."

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