Last weekend there was an article printed in our local newspaper that just about blew me away! If you have been following this blog at all, you are aware that I have been writing a series of posts about the Oak Knoll Cemetery in Livermore, California. If you remember correctly, I spoke about the Mendenhall’s in these posts, that they were the founders of Livermore and owned the property where Oak Knoll Cemetery used to be? If you haven’t read this series of posts, I suggest you stop now, and read that series first before you continue on reading here. You can find the posts here. Start at the bottom with post number one and move up with each post.
Now that you are caught up on the series, I will continue with this article that was in the newspaper.
The story centers in El Monte, California, which is in L.A. County. A home on Crossvale Avenue had been occupied with new owners. A field deputy, Jorge Morales, receives an unusual email, requesting help in exhuming a 136 year old body from this property!
It appears that the new owners found a historic tombstone in the backyard of their new home, hidden behind a shed. Now, are you ready for who this historic tombstone belonged to? None other than William Mendenhall, the father of the founder (also William) of Livermore!
Mr. Morales found out through city officials that the county coroner can only exhume the body if there is a court order OR with permission from next of kin. In his attempt to find next of kin, he soon came to realize that the body of William Mendenhall was buried 350 miles away. They state they are not so sure how the headstone got so far away, but I can take a guess! I am sure you can also, if you have read the series I have been posting.
In the meantime, once Livermore found out about the tombstone of William Mendenhall, they stated that they wanted it back! This was an important piece of Livermore’s history and they would love to have it back.
The younger William Mendenhall established Livermore in 1869 in the hopes of capitalizing on construction of the final leg of the transcontinental railroad, according to this article. The article goes on to explain that his father died four years later, where he was buried and much of the same information about the flooding, Chinese immigrants, the 1906 earthquake, etc., which I have blogged about previously.
Remember earlier it was stated that it was unknown how the headstone got so far away from where William was buried? Well, later in the article it says, it is believed that when Oak Knoll was no longer a cemetery and the loose tombstones were taken to the city yard, a great grandson of Mendenhall, Chester Langan, picked up the headstone. Public records states that a Chester Langan lived at this particular address in El Monte in the 1990’s. This is exactly where my mind had gone. A relative must have picked it up from the city yard!
Efforts were made to reach the family of Chester to no avail. The Livermore Heritage Guild offered payment to have the tombstone shipped home. The tombstone is to be placed in the city’s historic center. It won’t be added back to Mendenhall’s plot, as the property is now a park and not a cemetery, but the tombstone will be in the correct town. It is believed that Mendenhall’s body is still buried somewhere on the hill where the cemetery once stood, but no one knows for sure. Remember, because of the poor records, not everyone who was buried there could be accounted for. Plus in those days bodies were buried in wooden boxes and after all of this time, the feeling is that the wooden box wouldn’t have held up so well.
Now, what are the odds of this coming to light as I am writing my series on Oak Knoll Cemetery and the Mendenhall’s? Timing was unbelievable!
The article is in the Tri Valley Herald Newspaper. Livermore, Pleasanton, Dublin, California. Saturday June 20, 2009. Page A1, continued on page A11.