Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Hard to Believe

About 35 years ago I was walking through a family cemetery "Up Trent" (between Oyster Creek & Jackson Dunes) when I noticed my great-grandfather's wooden marker propped up against a tree. I was conflicted about what to do. I was hesitant to leave it there, but reluctant to remove it from the graveyard.

After contemplating the situation for several weeks I decided to retrieve the marker, keep it at my home for safe keeping, and replace it with another marker. When I returned to the cemetery it was gone. Someone had removed the marker. I resigned myself to never seeing it again.

To make a long story short, just before Thanksgiving I learned that the marker had been removed in order to safeguard it, but the gentleman who then held it died shortly thereafter. He had put it away in a storage shed, where it remained hidden for more than three decades. When his house was sold a couple of years ago his daughter and widow discovered the marker, and began their quest to return it to the family.

With the help of DeAnna Locke at the Ocracoke Preservation Museum the marker was recently returned to me. It is an interesting island grave marker because it is very primitive, hand carved, and unconventional in many ways. The inscription reads as follows:







JULY 1, 18[45]




Translation: In Memory of Tilmon W. O'Neal, Born July 1, 1845, Age 40 years, 2 months, 27 days.

Tilmon W. O'Neal was my grandmother's father.

You can click on the photo below to see better images of the marker.

Several cousins and I have ordered a new tombstone to mark the spot where Tilmon and his wife, Elizabeth, are buried. Now I must decide how to display this marvelous one hundred and twentyfive year old artifact of Ocracoke Island history. I'm thinking it might grace a wall in my living room.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is a history of the early twentieth century Doxsee Clam Factory in Ocracoke village. You can read it here: http://www.villagecraftsmen.com/news112110.htm


  1. Anonymous7:35 AM

    Philip, how wonderful for you and for your family that you finally have this amazing handmade grave marker back in your hands! Hats off to the family (widow & daughter) and to Ms. Locke @ OPS for their help returning the old wooden grave marker back to the rightful family.

    This will surely be another intriguing tale of many that will be passed down to your grandson so one day, many years from now, the story of your great-grandfather's grave marker (Lachlan's great-great-great grandfather) will be retold and shared with future generations.

    That's how it goes on Ocracoke Island.....thanks for keeping the old stories alive so each one never dies.

    This is one NC mainlander who cherishes every original detail!

    By the way,I agree you need to hang Tilmon W. O'Neal's wooden grave marker in your living room. I believe it is a most fitting and deserving spot for it. Keep your eyes on it this time! :)

  2. Anonymous7:41 AM

    Holy crap, Philip, I am speechless. What a great story.

  3. Anonymous11:19 AM

    Wow! Interesting story. Isn't that strange that the age at time of death was calculated right to the day, but the year was omitted?

  4. Anonymous1:04 PM

    safe keeping in a storage shed. Is there cemetery etiquette? I have heard stories of large statutes being removed inb the dead of night for " safe keeping" surely intent must dictate the placement of headstones. perhaps a mapping of the graves for all descendants is in order

  5. Hyde County has published a book, "In Memory Of..." (I call it the "Book of the Dead") that lists nearly every cemetery and grave in the county (up until the date of the book's publication in the 1970s). There is a section just for Ocracoke. It is a vauable resource, though many old-timers on Ocracoke know where the graves are without consulting the book. Janie Garrish, at the Water Plant, has been keeping a record of all the island graves since the book's publication.

  6. Anonymous2:22 PM

    a few days ago the Jacksonville times union ran a story about cemetery thefts. the vases that are bronze are disappearing for the copper content. If one googles the topic of cemetery thefts burial plot ornaments etc U will be shocked!!!