Given how common such projects are, one would think replacing a gas main just below the surface of a parking lot would be a simple enough job.
And in Fircrest on the morning of Oct. 19, it certainly was — until the crew unearthed a headstone near the Taco Time at 6618 19th St. W.
No Halloween prank, this. Just a mystery no one has solved yet.
“We were only a couple of feet down and hit what we thought was a rock,” said one member of the crew contracted with Puget Sound Energy. “We cleared the dirt away and it was the headstone of a woman born before the Civil War.”
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The name on the tall, narrow headstone was Henriette O’Hare, identified on the stone as the wife of Patrick O’Hare.
One edge was chipped, taking out the end of both dates on the stone. They read: ‘Born Sept 28, 184_; Died Mar 10, 19__’
While that left obvious questions, the crew was far more concerned about a larger issue.
Was Mrs. O’Hare there beneath the stone?
When they found the headstone, they stopped working. My first thought was, 'Oh no, how many more are there?’
Fircrest City Manager Rick Rosenbladt
The crew stopped work immediately, called in the city of Fircrest and Puget Sound Energy. There are protocols to follow in such cases, even if what’s been found is no more than suspected artifacts.
“No evidence of human remains or grave items was found, so we removed the headstone and documented the location and information on an archaeological resource form for the state database,” said PSE cultural resource scientist Elizabeth Dubreuil.
“The database helps anyone working in the area in the future to be aware that a headstone was found,” she said.
At Fircrest City Hall, City Manager Rick Rosenbladt was busy, too.
“My fear was that we’d find there had been an old cemetery out there,” Rosenbladt said. “Everything and everyone we checked with couldn’t find that one had existed. There used to be a gravel road there.”
After consulting with the city, PSE took the headstone for safekeeping.
Both the company and the city then began researching the O’Hare family.
“We’d like to get the headstone to the family,” Rosenbladt said.
Who were Patrick and Henriette O’Hare? Information is scant, though one thing seems certain: Henrietta O’Hare’s name was misspelled on her headstone.
Trial attorney Shelly Speir, whose office is next door to the Taco Time, loves a good mystery. So does office manager Barbara Billingsley.
Soon after the headstone had been excavated, they started their online research. What they found told at least a partial story.
Mr. and Mrs. O’Hare are listed in a pair of U.S. Census reports — one in 1880, the other in 1910. In both, she is listed as Henrietta, the daughter of Irish immigrants, married to Patrick, an Irish immigrant.
No evidence of human remains or grave items was found, so we removed the headstone and documented the location.
Elizabeth Dubreuil, Puget Sound Energy cultural resource scientist
In 1880, the couple lived in Ridgeway, Wisconsin, with Henrietta’s mother, Margaret Dinnen. O’Hare listed his occupation as farmer.
Thirty years later, the O’Hares showed up again, this time in Orting. The couple also had a boarder in 1910, May J. Ritle, who was listed as 12 years old.
On a pension document from 1914, Patrick says he had lived in Washington since 1901, was now a widower. There is a report, on Find-A-Grave.com, that Henrietta died on March 6, 1911, and was buried in Gethsemane Cemetery in Federal Way.
That, however, isn’t the case. Until well past 1970, that cemetery was known as St. Patrick, and no Henrietta O’Hare is buried there.
Patrick O’Hare’s final resting place is similarly mysterious. He died on July 16, 1918, “at his home” in Lincoln, Nebraska, according to a letter signed by someone calling himself “Superintendent.”
In that letter, dated July 17, 1918, it states Patrick wished to be buried “by the side of his wife in Tacoma.”
No records have been found — by Spier, the utility company or the city of Fircrest — showing that either O’Hare is buried in Tacoma.
In fact, it appears Patrick is buried in North Platte, Nebraska. Even that, however, has a mysterious side. His burial is listed as April 18, 1918 — months before his death was recorded.
That, of course, could have been a mistaken notation. But there’s even more confusion.
A search of the cemeteries in North Platte, Nebraska, on Find-A-Grave.com finds no Patrick O’Hare buried there.
Clearly, the couple did live in Orting in 1910. Just as clearly, 105 years later, Henrietta’s headstone —with her name misspelled — was dug up in the parking lot of a Fircrest Taco Time.
Not much else is clear.
“We haven’t found where either of them is buried or anything much about them,” Rosenbladt said. “Sometimes, I’m told, old headstones were used as fill, and it’s possible that’s the case here.”
If no one comes forward in 60 days, the headstone might be discarded.