This story is part of an ongoing series called Honey, Stop The Car: Monuments That Move You, which checks out memorials across the country that inspire drivers to pull over.
I close my eyes, and I can see the stone monument I'd passed countless times on my short walk to the ocean. How could I not? The monument is across the road from the house my parents owned in Seaside, Ore., for 25 years.
I can see the white pole with the American flag on top, a square rock wall around it. The wall, about knee high, bears the inscription, "Found on the beach. April 25, 1865."
No name. No country. All those years, walking by the monument on my way to the Pacific, I'd stop and wonder. Who was buried there? A soldier, we'd heard. The date was 11 days after Lincoln was assassinated. Maybe some dark connection to that?
I pondered, but I never really found out what happened. Until now. Amateur historian Gloria Linkey does know the story.
Linkey first saw the monument when she moved to Seaside at age 7 in 1937. It would be another half century, when Linkey returned to Seaside after years away, before her love of history and the ocean got her poking around. She found a book on local history called Life On Clatsop. And in it, the story.
"All we know is that in 1865, there was a sailing ship out there, and there was a man, his name was Mr. Hobson, and he was on the beach. And three sailors came in to find fresh water," she says. "They found it, got back in their small boat, headed back to the ship and a gathering storm. The local man, Mr. Hobson, built a bonfire on the beach to help orient the sailors in case they wanted to come back in."
They never did.
"And the next day, the bodies washed up," Linkey says. So Hobson buried them.
Linkey imagines the heartbreak for those waiting when the ship came in to dock, wherever that was.
"Here were three women whose men did not come off of that ship. And the captain would've had no idea that they were buried here. That this gentleman was kind enough to give them a burial," she says.
Linkey, 81, is the lone keeper of this story. The Seaside city manager, the director of public works, the staff at the local museum and historical society all defer to Linkey about questions regarding the monument. Over the years, people put flowers on it for Memorial Day or Fourth of July. Linkey says it doesn't happen anymore. In fact, the site's looking a little worn.
"I notice standing here that it could take a good weeding," she says.
And some paint, too, especially on the inscription on the front and on the stone at the base of the flagpole — the one that says, "Known only to God."