28 June 2010

Aunt Dorothy R.I.P.? Not Yet.

Last month I posted about my feelings for my Aunt Dorothy Grace (McNeill Walker) Nitzsche (1912-1948) and my desire to find her gravesite.  It was not in her obituary so the next obvious step was to order a copy of her death certificate which I did, and it arrived last week.

I was a little disappointed to discover she had been cremated on the realization there might not be any marker for her, but realizing still her ashes might have been interred I knew more research was required.  The certificate said she had been cremated by "California Crematory" which no longer exists by that name.  Some more digging and I discovered it still survives under the name "Chapel of the Chimes."

I called the Chapel and was pleased to get a friendly, caring and helpful lady.  I asked if there was any record of my aunt's remains having been interred?  She put me on hold for several minutes while she looked in her records, Dorothy died sixty-two years ago, these are not records at your finger tips.  The nice lady came back on and said "We have your aunt but I am afraid, she is not interred."  She goes on to explain that the ashes were originally handed off to Dorothy's husband John M. Nitzsche (1905-????), but nine years later her ashes had been discovered in an abandoned apartment in Berkeley, and since they still had the name of the crematory on the container the police returned them to the crematory.  My aunt Dorothy's remains were now being held in storage with the remains of everyone else who were not wanted.  I was stunned and shocked, thanked the nice lady, and hung up.

I began gathering my thoughts.  Obviously my first thought was that my Dad and my Uncle, the last two surviving siblings from this large family, will need to be contacted.  But second all the surrounding questions began.  What happened to her husband, and how did her ashes get abandoned?  Was there a police record?  I called the nice lady at the Chapel back.  She said the only records she had left were from when they took possession of Dorothy's body, which included the order for cremation.  She would check them but it would take a couple hours and call me back, which she did.  The only new thing we learned relevant was that Dorothy's ashes were destined for Cheyenne, Wyoming for interment. Cheyenne was the home of my grandfather Keith Glenn Walker (1894-1980) who adopted Dorothy after marrying her mother, my grandmother Mattie Mae (Needham) Walker (1884-1938).  I asked the lady at the Chapel if I could have copies of all the records mailed to me, and she said yes, and I received them today.

I cannot believe how many times the ball was dropped!!  First there is the gem of a husband who never got her ashes to Cheyenne nor made any permanent plans for them.  Conceivably it can all be laid at his feet.  Indeed while my grandfather never completely followed up, perhaps he was unable to, perhaps John Nitzsche disappeared?  And did my grandfather make arrangements for her interment in Cheyenne, did he pay for a space?  No one survives who would know.  Then there are all my Walker relatives, a huge family albeit with a limited presence in northern California, eight of her siblings survived her and for sixty-two years not one stumbled onto the fact that her remains were missing?!?  Unreal.  Such is a commentary on how contemporary society, and my relatives in particular, feel about cemeteries and things related.

Now what to do?  The first decision is left up to my father and his brother, as I said, the last two surviving siblings.  I am confident they will rectify the situation.  But if they don't, my two sons and I have already decided we will.  We wouldn't be able to live with the guilt if we didn't.  "Treat others as you would want them to treat you in the same situation" is our motto.

So aunt Dorothy may not yet "rest in peace."  But she will.  And whatever happened to her husband is a mystery yet to be solved.

Copyright © 2010 by Kevin W. Walker

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