Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Unearthing a Tombstone Mystery

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Unearthing a Tombstone Mystery

Article excerpt

On a summer afternoon in 2005, Joe Kurz made a discovery he would never forget.

Kurz, who works for the Englewood Public Works Department, was behind the Police Department that August day, clearing brush with co- worker Stanley Conyers. Conyers was in a bucket loader, gearing up to remove a tree stump.

Out came the stump. But what popped out with it was something the two weren't expecting: a tombstone.

"My face dropped. His face dropped," Kurz recalled. "And we go, 'Ohh, what do we do?' "

How did the granite slab get there? No one seemed to know. The stone itself offered few clues: just a name, James H. Prentice, a date of birth (June 29, 1817) and death (April 24, 1891) and the inscription "Absent from the Body/Present with the Lord."

Over the years, police made attempts to solve the mystery, including scanning the area with radar to look for a casket or human remains. But they hit a dead end every time, and for 11 years the stone remained where it had been found.

That all changed this week.

On Thursday, James H. Prentice -- or his tombstone, at least (the whereabouts of his remains is still a mystery) -- was reunited with his family at Englewood's Brookside Cemetery. As a small knot of city officials looked on, the grave marker was lowered into the ground. To the right stood a large slab proclaiming, simply, "Prentice." Before it lay the graves of Prentice's son James Howard Prentice, his wife, Sophia Claflin McCartee, and their daughter Anna Prentice.

"There is a nice sense of resolve, that at least the stone isn't alone," said Assistant City Manager Wendy Wiebalk.

Thursday's reunion was largely thanks to the efforts of Wiebalk, who volunteered to look into the stone's origins when it was brought to the attention of city officials back in May.

Englewood's firefighters had just moved in to their new station, located next to police headquarters, and someone had sent Councilman Charles Cobb a photo of the stone. He wanted to know, why was there a tombstone behind the firehouse?

"I mentioned it at a meeting and she [Wiebalk] says, 'I'll take on the project,' " City Manager Tim Dacey recalled Thursday.

Wiebalk took to the Internet, quickly finding Prentice's mother, Jemima Parmalee Prentice. …

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