OAKDALE -- The headstone reads, "Sydnor, Robert B. Died July 11, 1877. Aged 48 yr, 2 mos, 24 days."
Thanks to some members of the Van Norman family, the stone now resides in the home Sydnor built in 1869 -- the first building in town and now the Oakdale Museum.
A brief history: When the Central Pacific Railroad decided to build a line from Stockton south, leaders from the growing burg of Langworth lobbied to have it run through town.
Langworth was the dream of businessman Henry Langworthy, and by 1867 it boasted of a general store, a harvesting equipment manufacturer, an attorney, a broom maker, a hotel and ferryman and two mechanics. Langworthy himself was the postmaster and a farmer.
And where there were people, people died and needed a place to be buried. Town founders set aside land for a small cemetery in which Langworthy himself was buried. His epitaph read, "How many hopes he buried here."
His greater hopes for the town were dashed when the railroad bypassed Langworth and came through about three miles to the east, and Oakdale was born in 1871. The town of Langworth fizzled, leaving for posterity only an old store building and the cemetery, where Sydnor -- the last postmaster of Langworth and first in Oakdale -- was buried in 1877.
What's left behind
The Van Norman family bought the farmland that includes the cemetery in the late 1800s, and descendent Monica Harper said notification went out at that time to the families whose loved ones were buried in the cemetery. They were given the option of moving the remains or to risk losing access because the land had become private property.
In all, about 30 people were interred there, though the remains of some -- including Henry Langworthy -- were later moved to the Citizens or Odd Fellows cemeteries in Oakdale. The last recorded burial at Langworth was Myron Crow, a baby who lived only one day in 1891, documents show.
Over the years, the majority of the headstones have been badly damaged or are missing, Harper said.
Understandably, the family doesn't want people traipsing all over their land to poke around in what's left of the cemetery. The flip side is that descendants of those buried there can't freely visit their ancestors' grave sites. Permission to do so clearly is the Van Normans' call, said one cemetery expert.
"From what I understand, legally the landowner can refuse to let relatives on the property," said Bob LaPerriere, who has done vast amounts of research on cemeteries in the Sacramento area. "There is no good oversight for these smaller historical cemeteries.
"They do not fall under Consumer Affairs, and generally local cities and counties have no great interest in them. State health and safety codes are where regulations on these cemeteries can be found, but finding someone to enforce them is a problem."
Gov. Gray Davis a decade ago vetoed a bill that would have created a state commission to help protect historic cemeteries, LaPerriere said.
Another problem with abandoned cemeteries is in knowing what -- or who -- is still in them. According to recent reports, more than 6,000 graves at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia were mixed up, and that's the nation's most cherished and hallowed necropolis.
Throughout the country, there are hundreds if not thousands of historic cemeteries, including "Boot Hills," that have been forgotten, vandalized into oblivion or simply ignored, and that doesn't include American Indian burial grounds.
Earlier this year, Sacramento developer Gerry Kamilos paid a group of scientists to use ground- penetrating radar and magnetics in an attempt to locate a pioneer cemetery near Crows Landing, where he hopes to build a business park.
The search failed to find anything, and it is presumed that the 130-year-old cemetery was destroyed by farming, road-building or burying utility lines decades ago.
It's history lost, and that's why the folks at the Oakdale museum were so thrilled to get the Sydnor headstone last month.
The memorial of the man who built their building has finally come home.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2383.