Gravestone missing for more than 60 years returns to Winston-Salem church

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The original 1769 headstone of Johannes Walk in the Friedberg Moravian Church God's Acre on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014 in Winston-Salem, N.C. (Andrew Dye/Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — For more than 60 years, the original gravestone of infant Johannes Walk had been missing from the cemetery at Friedberg Moravian Church near Winston-Salem, with no clues to its whereabouts, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

A replacement marker sits in the cemetery, simply stating his name and year of birth and death: 1769.

But last Sunday, the missing 245-year-old marker returned home.

In December, a cleanup crew made a strange discovery in a neighborhood in Culpeper, Va. Near a tree sat an old gravestone. It bore the name of Johanes Walk — a line over the letter “n” on the gravestone signifying two n’s in the German name — and his dates of birth and death.

With help from the Germanna Foundation, the stone was traced back to Friedberg Moravian, a historic church in northern Davidson County that now has about 1,000 members.

His original grave marker was presented to the church last Sunday during its annual homecoming service, and some distant relatives of Johannes were among those gathered for the ceremony.

“I think it is only fitting that Johannes Walk’s stone was returned to Friedberg on Homecoming Sunday,” said Jimmie Snyder, the historian for the church.

Short life

Johannes Walk was born on March 4, 1769, and died Nov. 13, 1769. He was the second child and third person to be buried at Friedberg’s God’s Acre. The graveyard now has more than 2,000 graves.

Church historians do not know how Johannes died, but they do know that he was one of the first two children to be baptized at Friedberg and that the congregation gathered around the first three graves, including Johannes’, during its first Easter service on April 15, 1770.

According to the Germanna Foundation, Johannes Walk was the son of Martin Walk Jr. and Elisabeth Fiscus Walk. His grandmother was Catherine Clore, daughter of Germanna colonist Michael Clore of Germany, who arrived in Virginia around 1717.

According to information provided by Snyder, Johannes’ parents were married in Bethania in 1767.

Church members are not sure when Johannes’ gravestone disappeared, but it has been at least 60 years. In 1951, church trustees voted to replace some missing children’s gravestones.

It could have disappeared much earlier. Church records before about 1860 were written in German, Snyder said, and not all have been translated.

As fate would have it, Johannes’ stone would be found on land in northern Virginia, the area where his own ancestors had first settled.

“I don’t believe in coincidences,” Snyder said. “I believe God has his hand in everything.”

Strange discovery

When the stone was discovered in a wooded area of the Southridge neighborhood in Culpeper, the homeowner’s association contacted the town’s public works department.

Jim Hoy, director of public works for Culpeper, said it is not unusual to find historic items on land in the area.

“You never know what you’re going to find,” Hoy said.

But he knew this item was significant.

“We had some concerns that there may be a graveyard there that was undiscovered, but that wasn’t the case at all,” Hoy said.

The town contacted the Museum of Culpeper History, which then contacted the Germanna Foundation, a nonprofit genealogy and historic preservation organization. Most of the foundation’s members are descendants of the German colonists that came to Virginia in the early 1700s.

Steve Hein, chief operating officer of the Germanna Foundation, said the research turned out to be pretty easy for the group. Their records showed that Johannes Walk was the great grandson of Germanna colonist Michael Clore.

“I think it’s really fascinating that because of our knowledge of the genealogical line and the Germanna colonists, it really wasn’t very difficult to track down who Johannes Walk was, even though he only lived for about six months,” Hein said.

Cathi Clore Frost, one of the foundation’s trustees and genealogists, said, “We knew who he was, but the big mystery was how did his headstone end up in Virginia.”

Germanna member Elke Hall has been researching the Walk family genealogy, her husband’s ancestors, for at least 20 years.

Hall said the replacement stone at Friedberg only says the child was born and died in 1769, but the exact dates of Johannes’ birth and death are in the Salem diaries. Those are the dates on the stone discovered in Virginia.

“We just thought it was maybe a little eerie or a little strange that it reappeared right where Martin Walk (Johannes’ father) came from. … Why did the stone not appear in Atlanta or in Kansas?” Hall said.

After local newspapers published stories about the discovery, former Culpeper resident James Lee Lloyd told the Culpeper Star-Exponent that he had bought the stone 30 years before from an antiques store in Fredericksburg, Va., that no longer exists. He left the gravestone behind when he moved to Arizona last October because it was too heavy to take with him.

Return home

After discovering the stone’s local link, Germanna contacted the Moravian archives in Winston-Salem earlier this year, which then contacted Snyder.

“We were really pleased to be able to return the headstone to its proper resting place,” Hein said.

Last Sunday some representatives from the Germanna Foundation were on hand for the official return of the stone.

“Friedberg is a church that is rich in its history, but we’re alive and serving the Lord now. But it is really interesting and a blessing to have that returned to us, and we’re certainly grateful to the Germanna Foundation,” said the Rev. Jim Newsome, Friedberg’s senior pastor.

Hall and her husband, Larry, and grandson, Dustin, 7, traveled from Lake Wylie, S.C., for the ceremony. Larry Hall is a third great-grandnephew of Johannes Walk.

Elke Hall, who is German, said they felt it was important for descendants to be there.

Hall said her grandson kept talking about how the mommy was happy to have it back. He knew that the child had remained buried there all along, but he thought it was important for the church to have the stone with the birth and death dates.

Cathi Frost was there with her daughter, Elisa Frost. Cathi Frost lives in Oregon, but the timing just happened to coincide with a trip she had planned to the Germanna office in Virginia. Her daughter came down from Maryland.

Cathi Frost is a Clore, which makes Johannes a distant cousin.

“It was pretty exciting to get to be there,” Cathi Frost said.

The stone was placed on Johannes’ grave for a brief time last Friday morning. Now it is on display in the church’s historical room, where numerous other church artifacts, including a few other original gravestones, are housed. It sits on floorboards that were salvaged from the congregation’s early log structures.

“It’s back home,” Snyder said. “It’s back where it belongs.”