A Memorial For Three Mysterious Sailors

Jul 20, 2011
Originally published on July 20, 2011 12:03 pm

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 have put flowers on it for Memorial Day or Fourth of July. Linkey says it doesn't happen anymore. In fact, the site is 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."

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, host:

We're continuing our summer road trip this morning called Honey, Stop the Car. We're talking about that moment when you're on a drive and you spot something that makes you want to pull over. It could be a monument to some local hero or to a mystery.�NPR's Tom Goldman takes us to the small, oceanfront town of Seaside, Oregon, and a monument that honors three people the locals never knew.

TOM GOLDMAN: I close my eyes and see it.�How can I not?�The monument is across the road from the house my parents owned for 25 years.�I 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, passing by the monument on my way to the ocean, 100 yards beyond, I'd stop and wonder.�Who was it?�A soldier, we heard.�The date was 11 days after Lincoln was assassinated.�Maybe some dark connection to that?

(Soundbite of waves crashing)

Now standing in front of the monument on a gray, windy day here at the south end of Seaside, I may have pondered, but I never really found out what happened.�But, Gloria Linkey, you pondered, as well, over many years, and tell me the story as you know it.

Gloria Linkey first saw the monument when she moved to Seaside at age seven 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.

Ms. GLORIA LINKEY: 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.

GOLDMAN: 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.

Ms. LINKEY: Well they never did.�And the next day, the bodies washed up.�So he buried them here.�

GOLDMAN: He buried them?

Ms. LINKEY: Mm-hmm.

GOLDMAN: As a historian, an amateur historian but a very committed one, do you wish Mr. Hobson, you know, asked them their names or found out what that ship was out there or where it was from?�

Ms. LINKEY: Yes I do, because I like to take the story just a little bit further.

GOLDMAN: She imagines what probably happened when the ship came in to dock, wherever that was - the heartbreak for those waiting.

Ms. LINKEY: 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.

GOLDMAN: 81-year-old Gloria Linkey 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 when you ask about 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.

Ms. LINKEY: I notice, standing here, that it could take a good weeding.

GOLDMAN: Some paint, too, on that inscription in the front and on the stone at the base of the flagpole - the one that says, known only to God.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

KELLY: The series Honey, Stop the Car motors through the summer on MORNING EDITION and WEEKEND EDITION.

(Soundbite of music)

This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.