Janesville31.1°

From the fathoms: Mystery gravestone turns up in Rock River

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Catherine W. Idzerda
September 29, 2009
— Frank A. Albrecht died in 1923.

His wife, Louise, died in 1953.


On Friday, Frank's headstone turned up in the Rock River.


But not to worry—this isn't a story about cemetery vandals or ghosts.


It's a story about riprap.


On Friday, volunteers from the Friends of Riverside Park, along with a brawny bunch from the Rock County Jail's RECAP program, were cleaning the riverbank in the corner of the park.


The river was lower than usual because of a drawdown requested by North American Hydro, the owner's of the Centerway Dam in Janesville. The dam was damaged during the 2008 flood.


Near the end of the cleanup, volunteer Marv Wopat and Pam Van Brocklin, vice president of Friends of Riverside Park, got their shovels under a huge block of something mired in the riverbed.


Slowly, with the help of the RECAPers, they levered the block from the sludge and turned it over, exposing the fearful lettering. It was a specter from more than eight decades ago, emerging from its resting place.


Nobody screamed and ran.


First, because most RECAPers aren't the screaming-running types.


Second, because they already had discovered several pieces of headstones along the riverbank that clearly had been placed there as erosion prevention, or riprap.


But this was a full headstone. It read:


Father


Frank A. Albrecht


1881-1923.


The other chunks of headstones were in smaller pieces. One said "Heinrich." Another, with a "L" scrolled in its center, looked like the mantel piece to a larger monument.


The writing on most of the pieces was barely legible.


The park opened in 1923, the year of Albrecht's death, but the far corner wasn't developed until 1928, Van Brocklin said.


If vandals had stolen the headstone and thrown it in the river, they would have had to carry it down a narrow trail through a wooded area with lots of marshy undergrowth.


Besides, it was heavy. Wopat estimated that it weighed close to 500 pounds.


The closest source of gravestones, partial and otherwise, is Gramke Monuments, 1620 N. Washington Ave., right next to the entrance of Riverside Park.


Craig Gramke solved the mystery right away.


"I learned about making headstones from my father, and he learned from my grandfather," Gramke said. "But my grandfather, John Gramke, basically taught himself. If a stone didn't turn out, he'd do it a different way next time."


That meant scrap pieces.


"I remember hearing the story about the bank wearing away down in the park," Gramke said.


The city asked his father or his grandfather if they could put the headstone pieces along the riverbank to prevent erosion.


But what about poor Mr. Albrecht?


"Sometimes the husband dies first and the wife buys a marker. Then when the wife dies, the kids want to get a double marker," Gramke said. "We get that a lot."


In one case, a couple lost an infant child and had the remains buried in a local cemetery. But then the couple bought a plot at Milton Lawns and had their infant disinterred and moved to the new plot.


But Milton Lawns only allows flat markers, so the old headstones ended up "propping up the porch on their house," Gramke said.


When the home's new owners found the headstone, it gave them the willies—that would be the technical term for the heebie jeebies—and they came to Gramke looking for answers.


According to Gramke's records, which date back to 1914, a marker was purchased for Frank A. Albrecht in 1925 by a Mrs. Frank Albrecht of 452 N. Pearl St., Janesville.


Then, in 1953, Ruth Ehrlinger of the same address bought a double marker of Wausau red granite, for Frank and his wife, Louise, 1876-1953.


The older marker then became scrap.


Now, Frank and Louise Albrecht's headstone can be found in Oak Hill Cemetery. Next to them is a matching marker for Helene J. Albrecht, 1910-1980 and Harold H. Albrecht 1909-1974.


May they all rest in peace.



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