In my mind’s eye there’s always a crow, a silly old crow really. It follows me as I search after forgotten things, and spies out the burial place where my ancestor, Erastus Lee, ought to be – but isn’t. Indifferently, that darn crow watches me, as my mind traverses the Wolverine State landscape of St. Clair County and the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, there, in Wales Township. Like me, the old crow knows that, lost or not, this is where Erastus’s grave surely has to be. True enough, too, the crow knows that Wales Township is a place that neither of us (unless it’s the old crow) will ever get to explore. And, as much as it chagrins me to say, I’ve come to accept that there will always be “those places” in family research that many of us will never get to see. Places remaining only approachable in the mind’s eye – and visited on occasion by that old crow.
My own phantom bird travels there, northeast to Wales Township, revealing peaceful surroundings but few possibilities about the grave of Erastus Lee. It’s a bit strange to me too, the odd similarities between what ought to be Erastus’s final resting place and that of his son John, my great-great grandfather, since John’s own (Colorado) gravesite is unknown. I do wonder sometimes if I’m not supposed to have some innate answers to these questions – as if the answers might somehow have been encoded into my DNA with me only having to tap into them? I’ve had to ask myself (and ask that bird too of course) Did someone actually mean for these graves to become lost? (Indeed, I’m wondering now if it is really so unusual for me to see that insouciant bird perched over my shoulder.) In the end, Erastus’s gravesite, like that of his son John, may just be a simple mystery – even a legend…
I do wonder sometimes if I’m not supposed to have some innate answers to these questions…
You see, Erastus may have never made it to his grave. In between his ascribed date(s) of death, and the advertised date of his burial, something changed. And, as much as it would be ever so convenient for me to say that Erastus was the victim of late nineteenth-century Fake News (or even better – international intrigue!), the newspaper accounts are pretty clear. They appear to accurately recount the event of his death and burial. The accounts give a straightforward chronology, leading from his “impaired date” of death to the “acts” surrounding his funeral services. So what then happened to Erastus? I wish I knew.
Poor Erastus, even from the beginning any date of death gets wonky. His date of death is only implied, from the newspaper account dated Wednesday, 18 September 1889, which says he was buried “last Sunday,” meaning he was buried on 15 September… (and died when???). However, the whole affair with Erastus’s date of death isn’t that easy – as later records show him (quite impossibly) having died the following November. I have to say, it must be kind of an unusual feeling to have your obit. come out before you pass away – and then to have your grave site go missing afterwards. Of course, we all know it didn’t happen that way – no matter how it seems.
A couple of years ago, one of Erastus’s descendants tried to take this mystery on. He did a great job, too, as at the time even documenting the year of Erastus’s death was a feat in itself. Accompanied by his wife, a tenacious researcher, my Lee cousin scoured newspaper accounts and libraries, traveling with his family to Wales Township and to Mt. Pleasant Cemetery. I can’t help but feel for my cousin; he was, after all, so well-armed with a solid newspaper account of the funeral service and a fearless gal Friday at his side. How could they not believe those statements in print as to where they had placed the old “pioneer” that Sunday in September of 1889?
When they arrived at Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, and went to meet with the sexton, the only thing that they could discover was that yes, Erastus had indeed purchased a plot there. The sexton even took them to it, presenting the plot to my poor cousin, but alas, the sexton had no record of anyone ever being buried in the plot. No stone or written record of a burial existed, leaving nothing there (for all intents and purposes) but the vacant crypt of Erastus Lee. I can see that crow laughing at us now, as it begins to fly away from us, the mortal fools.
In the end, there are no any easy answers. Part of me wonders if Erastus isn’t buried in the ground at Mt. Pleasant anyway, and that the cemetery was just “remiss” in its record keeping. (I’ve pretty much given up believing that Erastus died the following November after his obituary came out that previous September – though I don’t discount that he was a clever man.)
So I let the old crow circle Mt. Pleasant Cemetery from time to time. I find it’s good for both of us to stretch our mental wings in going back there, just to see if something has changed, or if the pioneer has decided it’s time for us to know more about his final resting place. I’m very grateful to my Michigan cousins for making the trip and attempting to (just figuratively) dig up old Erastus. I owe them – because I’ll never get there. And true enough too, there really isn’t any way of knowing what happened to Erastus beyond having faith in the newspaper account of where he was buried that summer. In the meantime though, I will let that crow keep watch, and do my best to make sure that nobody forgets old Erastus Lee. I like to think he’ll become the stuff of St. Clair County legends, all the while keeping a look-out from his hidden burial place.
 Erastus Lee (ca. 1810–1889).
 Wales Township, St. Clair County, Michigan.
 Calculated to be ‘near’ Sunday, 15 September 1889 if the Port Huron Daily times is correct, or 8 November 1889 as per Michigan, Death Records, 1867–1950 (Ancestry.com).
 Port Huron Daily Times, Wednesday, 18 September 1889, 1, for the obituary of Erastus Lee, images courtesy of Mike and Ailam Lee.