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SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2007
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Missing tombstone returned after decades

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com · 340-2355

BELLE MINA — Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department property clerk Randy Moormann was joking when he said Ed Taylor’s spirit will rest easier now that his headstone has been returned to his grave. But the restoration Saturday clearly brought some peace for Taylor’s many descendants.

Pastor James Franklin of Jerusalem Primitive Baptist Church pointed out that some had always been unsettled by the headstone’s disappearance from Living Water Cemetery sometime in the early 1970s.

Taylor, a respected church deacon, died in 1969 at the age of 83, leaving behind an extensive family.

For more than three decades, Taylor’s descendants harbored curiosity about the stone’s whereabouts, until the 100-pound granite block suddenly turned up on a roadside 90 miles away in Jefferson County in early June.

“The stone was a mystery. God revealed the stone. God did this. I’m glad,” said Taylor’s nephew, John Henry Long, who is now 80.

God put the right person on the job of finding the stone’s owner, Franklin said.

Moormann, shocked when Sylvan Springs volunteer firemen showed up at his office in Bessemer with a tombstone, made returning the stone a priority.

“I think that when you die, your headstone belongs to you and your spirit,” Moormann said. “Whoever took it for whatever reason was wrong. I wouldn’t want someone to take my headstone after I’m gone.”

Bonita Collier, a great-granddaughter of Taylor, thanked Moormann; Sylvan Springs Volunteer Fire Chief William Johnson, who discovered the stone while jogging; Sgt. John Bili of the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, who investigated the case locally; Daily reporter Seth Burkett, for tracking down family members; and others who helped.

Many of Taylor’s kin still live in the area and attend the church, and four generations, including a great-great-great-granddaughter, were on hand Saturday morning to see the stone restored.

Franklin suggested Taylor might well be beaming down with pride at the prosperity and integrity of his family.

“Papa Ed still lives on,” he told them. “As long as you live, he lives.”

Franklin gestured to the ancient graveyard, its markers dotting the eaves of the woods and the edge of the path off Arrowhead Landing.

“Come back and be in memory of your loved ones,” he said. “Stop by here and talk with your great-great-grandfather, and you’ll find that, even though he’s dead, something might be transferred.”

Long said the five-acre plot that is now Living Water was given by landowner Henry Kimball to his slaves to bury their dead. Long said some of his ancestors were among Kimball’s slaves.

Like his uncle 40 years past, Long is a church deacon and the cemetery’s caretaker.

Recalling a request Taylor made 40 years ago, Long, now 80, shared it with the family.

“Two years before he died, he asked me to take over (the cemetery) for him,” Long said. Soon, he added, “somebody’s going to have to take over for me.”

Long said he’s not ready to give up his caretaker’s hat just yet — but he wanted family members to begin thinking about the future preservation of their ancestors’ rest.

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