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12.03.2010

Reverb 10: Moment


The moment during which I felt most alive this year occurred in a cemetery in northeastern Ohio. Quite ironic.

I've often thought about Ransom Wright in the eight years or so since I first read his tragic story:
He succumbed to the hardships incidental to the clearing up of the farm from the heavy timber and making a home in the wilderness. The immediate cause of death was an accident which occurred while he was building his new frame house. He had quarried a large block of sandstone for his hearthstone, eight feet long, three feet wide and six inches thick - big enough for the old-fashioned fire place of the pioneers, capable of receiving its huge backlog and forestick with space at one end for a commodious brick oven. This hearthstone would barely go through the door of the house and in trying to adjust it, he injured himself internally, from the effects of which he died.
Ransom was only 37 when he died -- five years older than I am now. He left behind, Elizabeth, his wife of fourteen years and eight young children. That was in the spring of 1839.

Of the hundreds of names, dates and narratives that I've collected in the years since I started researching my family history, he's the one who's stuck out most in my mind. I think it's a combination of his name (so unique) and the heartbreak I felt over how he died. To know that he was crushed under an 1,800-pound slab of sandstone while trying to build a home for his family. To know that, as his great-great-great-great-granddaughter, I am one of his descendants.

This September, Kevin and I traveled to Columbus for the UM v. Ohio State football game. The day after the game, we climbed into our rental car, loaded the iPhone with directions to Munson, and found our way to I-71 N with one goal in mind: finding Ransom's final resting place.

During the three-hour drive, I was nervous. Was I wasting our time? Was this going to turn out like the wild goose chase I led Kevin on in Scotland during our honeymoon, scouring abandoned cemeteries until nightfall for long past ancestors, only to find nothing? I didn't know.

All that I really had to go on was the fact that there are two cemeteries in the town: Fowlers Mill and Maple Hill. I wasn't sure which of the two he might be in. I wondered if his headstone was still legible. Did poor Elizabeth even have enough to afford a headstone at the time? I didn't know.

As the blue dot on the Google Maps app inched closer and closer to our destination, I could feel my pulse quicken. Oh, how I hoped that we would find something. Anything. I held my breath as we made the turn and drove through the gates at Fowlers Mill. I remember the crunching sound that the gravel made under the tires as we slowly made our way up the drive, my eyes scanning stones for a familiar name the entire time. Then we parked.

I zipped up my lightweight sweater and climbed out of the car. It was a chilly afternoon but the sun was shining and the sky was blue. I closed my eyes, breathed in deeply and just stood there for a moment. Was he here?

Kevin motioned to me that he would start looking near the wooded perimeter of the cemetery. I nodded and took off walking in the direction of a neat row of aged headstones, maybe 30 feet away. I'm not sure what drew me there, but after maybe ten steps, my eyes fixed on the smallest marker, which was no longer upright, but leaning slightly backward. As I got closer, I could clearly make out the first name, etched in the center of the stone: Ransom. And I knew.

My eyes welled up with tears as I kneeled on the ground before it. I called out to Kevin, but he couldn't hear me. A little louder, I tried again. "I found him. I found Ransom. He's here."

All I could do was stare at the simple marker decorated with the primitive image of a weeping willow tree. With my fingers, I traced the outline of his name. I was amazed at how well preserved it was. The edges of the stone had softened over the years and its surface was slightly gritty and covered with patches of black lichen. Sandstone. The same material that claimed his life. Could it have been cut from the very same slab? I wondered.

I sat there with Kevin for a while, completely silent. A wave of peace came over me, knowing that I was finally in the same place as the man who entered my thoughts so often for so many years. I wondered if I might resemble him in some way, knowing that I carry a piece of him inside of me. I thought about his daughter Elizabeth, my great-great-great-grandmother, who very likely stood near that same place during his funeral 171 years ago. How long had it been since anyone else had come to visit him?


Next to Ransom's was a headstone bearing a name that I recognized. Peter Thomson. I had no idea that I'd find him there, but it made perfect sense. Peter was Elizabeth's father and Ransom's father-in-law. He fought in the Revolutionary War. I was yet again speechless. Two generations of my actual forefathers, right there in front of me!

I've made a habit of collecting rocks, leaves and such from places that I hope to remember. Before leaving Fowlers Mill, I gathered a handful of acorns from the large oak tree near Ransom and Peter's final resting place. They seemed fitting a fitting memento and symbol of my relationship to the men.

It's hard to describe the full range of emotions that I experienced that day. Being in very the place where those who came long before me lived, worked, and ultimately died is humbling. Finding Ransom is something that I will never forget. He is part of who I am and of who my children will someday be. I look forward to the day that I can pass on that history to them. It will be their legacy.


Do you have a "moment" for 2010?

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4 comments:

  1. What an amazing story and you told it so vividly! My father-in-law is very very very into genealogy, but....how to put this? The stories he regales me with aren't nearly as captivating as yours ;)

    xoxo, Octopus!

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  2. Wow. I just found out that the majority of my Mom's family are all in the same cemetery. One of the headstones just says Indian Joe.

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  3. Wow, what an amazing moment to remember!!!

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