Monday, October 7, 2013

Roadside mystery

The grave site of the McKellips children...
A cross in the wilderness...
After Death Valley, we turned north to with the intention of going into Yosemite National Park. The mountain scenery to the west was reminiscent of parts of BC. At one point, we passed a roadside memorial that caught my attention for two reasons:
  • The large white cross overlooking what appeared to be an actual gravesite;
  • The memorial was some distance from the highway shoulder. If it was meant as a marker for a car accident or a pedestrian struck by a car, I would have expected it to be closer.
I was intrigued enough to stop and go back for another look. It did appear to be a grave and not simply a memorial. There was a wooden plaque with two names on it as well as a collection of weathered toys and assorted gifts sprinkled over the site.

Lorenza and Larkin's grave site...
The final resting spot of Lorenza and Larkin...

When I returned home I looked for information via Google not expecting to find anything. Wrong! I quickly found three sites that provided me with an answer to this roadside mystery.

From this site:
"In the 1870s, the McKellips ran a way station near the current gravesite. Managing a way station was usually a family affair. The wife of the manager would prepare food and lodgings, while the manager would tend to the animals and any repairs to the stages and wagons. The children would help whichever of their parents they could. In January of 1874 a dreadful sickness came into the valley [Diphtheria, we think] and entire families took ill at the same time. There was none left well to care for the sick. Larkin & Lorenza McKellips died and of necessity had been buried very close to the house. After the family had gotten well, they must have carefully tended the little grave sites. The father had the dreadful chore of carving their names and dates into a grave marker. When the time came for the family to leave the area, the way station was no longer needed, the mother's heart must have been heavy with anguish.
For over half a century the graves laid forgotten. In 1947, Bill James, who leased the "White Swan" talc mine was wandering over the desert and found two grave markers. It was impossible to discern what was originally carved into the worn and weathered wooden boards. The mystery intrigued Mr. James and by inquiring with all of the old-timers in the area he was gradually able to piece together the story of the children and their untimely deaths. Mr. James carved new markers and the James family and the Wallace Campbell family of Darwin maintained the graves until the road department crew took over."
These days, the California Dept. of Transportation is responsible for maintaining the grave. When the road was set to be straightened in the 1980s, they re-engineered it to go around the site.

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