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Soon after Hester and Robert were buried, Isaac set about choosing and purchasing a headstone for their graves. In a letter to Otis Adelbert Kline, dated September 12, 1936, he updates Kline on his progress.
I hire[d] an experienced marble man to act as agent in buying and supervising the placing of this monument. I was dealing with a marble company and I felt that I had to protect myself in the selection of a memorial and in the buying of the quality of the granite, therefore I had to have somebody who was competent to receive this work as per contract, by this marble company. The man I selected was a very experienced man, who had been in the marble business himself for many years. This memorial came out of Vermont and was finished at the Rock of Ages Granite Works in Vermont, and not knowing about it I employed this man to act as my agent. He supervised the purchasing of the material, he supervised the foundation and he also supervised the placing of the monument, and today he signed a release to the money to this company. The money was in escrow. The material is paid for, but this man’s service is not paid for …
The letter continues with Isaac making an urgent plea to Kline to put pressure on Farnsworth Wright to come through with money owed by Weird Tales so he can pay the man who helped with the headstone.
At the same time the marker was being purchased and installed, Isaac was fretting about the burial site and the issue of water seepage to Norris Chambers, a family friend who was eleven years younger than Robert. Today, Norris is 93 years old, but possesses a remarkable memory. He revealed the following to me in a recent e-mail.
We saw Dr. Howard several times a week after Robert’s and Hester’s deaths. He was never satisfied with the funeral or the burial site … [H]e was afraid water would seep into the coffins and he talked of having the bodies moved. He visited several grave yards with this idea in mind. He was also concerned about the shrubs and flowers he needed and did considerable traveling to nurseries and other graveyards looking. I accompanied him on one overnight trip to Waco where he visited some nurseries. Until 1941 he was not satisfied with the graves and it bothered him.
The water seepage issue is one item he took quick action on in the fall of 1936.
For over 80 years, the Sextons of Greenleaf were all from the Thomas family. However, there was a period of time, 1928-1940, when a “Thomas” was not in charge of the cemetery, but did work there. That worker was Gomer Thomas, who actually began helping his Uncle Edward Thomas (1983-1928) at the age of twelve. In 1923, when Gomer was 18, he began working full time at the cemetery, eventually becoming the superintendent sometime in the 1940s.
The person actually in charge during 1936 was Sam Bass (who is referenced by Isaac in his letter to Lovecraft, dated June 29, 1936). Gomer was the cemetery worker who installed the steel vaults that would prevent the intrusion of water into Hester and Robert’s wooden caskets. While Isaac waited in the cemetery’s office, Gomer and a team of five men using a truck, unearthed the caskets and removed the outer wooden boxes encasing them. The wooden boxes served the purpose of keeping the caskets from being crushed by the weight of the dirt they were buried under. The caskets were then placed in steel vaults and re-buried. The whole operation took four hours.
In a further exchange of e-mails with Norris, a surprising revelation came forth, namely the headstone that currently sits above the Howard burial plots is not the same stone that was placed there in the fall of 1936.
The stone would have been [replaced] after 1940, because we saw Dr. Howard regularly until about May or June of 1941 and we would have known if he changed the stone. If I remember correctly the first one was taller and not so wide.
I don’t know when the Howard monument was changed. I made several trips with Dr. Howard looking for shrubs to plant by the grave. He bought some in Waco but I didn’t help plant them. I notice there are no shrubs in the [current] picture and the monument is entirely different.
So, being curious about what the first headstone looked like, I contacted Rock of Ages, which is still in business, to see if they might still retain records that far back. Specifically, I was hoping they might have photographs or drawings of the marker Isaac bought from them in 1936. Alas, they do not keep records going that far back. I also contacted Sterling Monument Company in Brownwood. This monument company is based out of Colorado and has been in business since 1918. However, they did not have a location in Brownwood in the 1930s and 1940s.
While we don’t know exactly what the first headstone looked like, it appears the monument was smaller, leading me to believe only Hester and Robert’s names were on it. In other words, it was a headstone for just two people, which would explain the need to later replace it with a larger one. While Norris does not recall the actual inscription on the 1936 headstone, he agrees with my assumption that only Hester and Robert’s names were listed. Norris moved away from the area in the summer of 1941 and did not see Isaac again until 1944, the year he passed away. It was during that time period that the marker was replaced with the current one.
In the later years of his life, Isaac suffered from severe cataracts. This was a hereditary condition from the Walser side of his family. In fact, his mother went blind before she died. He also developed diabetes and had to take insulin each day. No doubt his advancing age and failing health motivated him to make arrangements for a new headstone large enough to include his name on it. For the second headstone, Isaac chose the following epitaph.
They were lovely and pleasant in their lives and in their death they were not divided.
This sentiment is based on this passage from the Bible.
Saul and Jonathan were lovely and pleasant in their lives, and in their death they were not divided: they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
— 2 Samuel 1:23 King James Version
Selection of this inscription was a bit of wistful thinking on Isaac’s part. In reality, the Howards were not quite the idyllic family Isaac wanted to show the world. Granted there were happy moments, but there were dark ones as well. With Isaac away from home many nights, it had to be a lonely existence for Hester who longed for a life in the big city and a higher place in society than the one she was relegated to. She and Isaac were frequently at odds with each other, making it a stressful home life for Robert. Like his mother, Robert too wanted more from life, seeming more and more desperate as he grew older for a meaningful relationship with a woman. As for Isaac, he went about doing what he did best, tending to the sick and providing as best he could for his family while dreaming of that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
In the fall of 1944, he was confined to the hospital for a while because of a heart problem, but died suddenly after he was released.
Regarding any possible involvement Robert might have had in choosing the plots, here is one last e-mail from Norris that may or may not shed light on the subject.
I believe that Robert picked the site before his death. I never heard it discussed, but I do know that Dr. Howard was not satisfied with the location of the graves – he visited several other cemeteries looking for a desirable place to have the bodies moved to.
Robert liked Brownwood and went any time he could find an excuse – even as trivial as looking for a typewriter ribbon!
So Norris believes Robert picked the Greenleaf plots. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is a possibility, but we will never know for certain. One thing we do know, both Hester and Robert liked Brownwood and enjoyed spending time there.
This post began with Howard’s headstone, so it is only fitting that it ends with Howard’s footstone. In 1986, when the first Howard Days was held, several REHupans located Robert’s footstone which, over the years, had sunk underground. REHupa OE Bill Cavalier was among those who found and uncovered the stone.
At the first gathering in 1986, we had gone to the gravesite with Glenn Lord. Glenn produced a small photo of the REH footstone, which was not immediately evident when we looked for it. It was Mark Kimes, Vern Clark and me who finally uncovered it, Mark and I cutting some small chunks of sod away and literally pulling it out of the ground and propping it up after we filled in the hole a little. I was the one who suggested a rubbing; Mark made his own and I did one for me and one for Vern. I believe those were the only ones made (at least nobody else in the party did so at the time. I know Rusty told me he regretted that years later.) But hey, as I’m the only one left still in Howard fandom, I’ll be happy to take all the credit!
It was November of 1989 when we went back, on the occasion of the 100th Mailing of REHupa. It wasn’t an “official” Howard Days, but the Cross Plains folks welcomed us with all their marvelous hospitality. Project Pride had just been formed and they had bought the House, so we got to go inside for the first time. It was pretty well gutted, and I remember Billie Ruth and Joan and Alton McCowan and Johnny Adams talking about the upcoming renovations. Wow, 21 years ago now…
While Bill was there in 1989, he made a return trip to Greenleaf and discovered that the footstone he and his fellow REHupans had so carefully unearthed three years earlier was gone. Some dastardly scoundrel had stolen it! Below is Bill’s rubbing of the footstone; the lopsidedness of it is most likely due to getting whacked over a period of years by a lawnmower blade. Also, Hester has a footstone, but Isaac does not.