PIEDMONT (CBS SF/CBS Sacramento) — A tombstone from the 1800s which mysteriously turned up along a country road in Stanislaus County has been returned to where it belongs: a cemetery in Piedmont some 100 miles away, thanks to a man who made it his mission to find out where it came from.
Last month, Marc Santos noticed the tombstone leaning up against a telephone pole last month as he drove down he uses every day to get to work. It read, “In affectionate remembrance of L.J. HUGHES, M.D.” and “Died June 17, 1881. Aged 31 years.”
“My first thought was it needs to get back to where it needs to be,” Santos said.
Santos said he couldn’t leave something more than 100 years old in such an unusual place. So, he and a friend loaded it into the back of his truck and Santos sought the help of a historian in nearby Waterford.
Through Google searches and other research, it was discovered Dr. Hughes had received his medical degree at the University of San Francisco in 1879. A Masonic square and compass symbol led Santos to contact the master of a local Masonic lodge; with his help, further research led them to the Mountain View Cemetery in Piedmont.
“Once we did the research and figured out that it belonged here, we came in contact with people here at the cemetery. They were caught off-guard and didn’t realize it was missing,” said Campos. “Once we came here, spoked to a couple of guys that worked here, one guy told me he’s been there for 18 years, he’s worked here for 18 years, it’s been missing ever since.“
Santos said he was compelled to do whatever it took to get the tombstone back to its rightful place.
“It’s in my nature to try to help out,” said Santos. “Also, in my past I’ve made not-so-smart choices, and this right here is just kind of, I believe, a wise choice to kind of get it back and look into it and figure out where it belongs.”
The Masonic Lodge master was completely on board with Santos’ efforts.
“It was just one of those things where we wanted to do the right thing. And obviously it’s just a piece of stone but it’s what it represents and what everybody who’s ever lost a loved one – you expect that stone to be in perpetuity and taken care of,” said David Daley, Master of Oak Summit Lodge 112, F&A Masons. “And the fact that somebody stole it and drove it 100 miles east and threw it on the side of the road, we’ll never know that story. But bringing it back here just brings closure and it’s just one of those things that’s the right thing to do, and by doing that I think everybody benefits from it.”
How the tombstone was moved, possibly stolen, from the cemetery and how it got to Stanislaus County remains a mystery.
No one has been able to locate any extended family, but Santos and the people who helped him are grateful to get the stolen stone back home in case any family comes forward.