Of all the mysteries surrounding death, one of them should not be where your headstone has gotten to.
Yet for one particular headstone — or footstone — that unceremoniously landed at an intersection of busy roads in Springfield Township, Montgomery County a few years ago, that is the central question: Why is the monument not anchoring the gravesite of its namesake?
The monument bears the given name Irving (Yitzhak Ben Tzvi Hirsch, Halevi) and the birth and death dates of July 28, 1882 and Nov. 16, 1950. The heavy, standard-sized headstone was found by Springfield Township police along the road, and appeared at the time to have possibly fallen off of a truck. At least, that was the first impression.
“The marker was found several years ago by our police department at an intersection that shares a municipal border with Cheltenham Township and the City of Philadelphia, along the roadside,” said Michael Taylor, assistant manager of Springfield Township. “By coincidence, there happens to be a memorial company right across the street from where the monument was found. So, they checked with that company. They thought maybe it was an extra, because sometimes they have samples, but it was not.”
Township personnel also checked with the City of Philadelphia, with Cheltenham Township and with other neighboring communities to make sure that no cemeteries had been vandalized, Taylor said. As there were no reports of vandalism or missing headstones and no information that matched this specific stone, the monument was stored at the township public works building in the event that a claimant came forward.
“As with any other property they obtain, the police department puts out a message to other jurisdictions that they’ve found this. But our police department is not equipped to handle an item of this size and weight,” said Taylor, “and we knew that it might be some time before it was claimed. So, they asked the Public Works Department to store it on a temporary basis.”
That was two years ago. More recently, as renovation projects were begun on a new municipal campus, and the Public Works Department prepares to move to another locale, the Irving monument resurfaced.
And while Springfield Township is willing to hang on to the headstone, the active search has been taken over by a couple of area residents.
One of them posted a photo of the headstone on Facebook looking for information as to its provenance. Another, Michael Seeherman, has been sleuthing through Jewish genealogical records, and believes he might have located a possible family.
“Someone was able to look up and find a person with that same name and death date, and apparently they are buried at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, N.Y.,” Seeherman said. “Same birth date. Same death date. His name is Irving Spiro. Buried in that same plot is a wife, Anna; a son, William; and a son, Joseph. It’s block 117-2B. They’re all buried there together.”
Whether it is indeed the same individual referenced on the headstone is still under investigation. Seeherman has contacted a family in upstate New York that he hopes will turn out to be the correct relatives.
“I like the challenge of the internet search. There are websites out there that will help you locate graves, and I figured this is a nice little mitzvah for me to be able to hook this up with the family,” Seeherman said. “So, I did some research on the internet and found some relatives up in Albany. They said they were related to these people, and were trying to figure out if he has any grandchildren who are still available to look into this. They would like to get to the bottom of it. It sounds like it’s the great-grandfather’s brother, because he has relatives buried at that same cemetery.
“I’m guessing that the company that makes the stones must have been set to make the delivery and, as they were pulling out, it fell off the truck and never made it to the cemetery in Queens. Maybe they ordered another one,” Seeherman said. “But we don’t know. We’re still trying to figure that out, and to find out if we have the right family.”
Taylor said any individuals coming forward about the headstone would be required to provide documentation substantiating their claim.
“We would refer them to the police department and the police would review that,” he said. “If they have a death certificate for a family member, or a plot or a deed where it was located, or a police report that had reported it missing, then the police department would verify it.
“If you find the rightful owner, please refer them to the Springfield Township Police Department,” Taylor added. “They will get in contact with our Public Works Department and we’ll make it available to them. For now, the monument is tucked away safely in our public works yard. We’ll hold onto it for a while. At this point, we really have no other plans for it.”
Wendy Plump is a freelance writer.