ARLINGTON — On a mottled gray-and-white granite tombstone, Cpl. John Louis Grant’s name will shine legibly for decades to come.
About 50 people gathered in a Veterans Day celebration and re-dedication of the tombstone of the Civil War veteran who died 119 years ago. He was interred in 1899 at Arlington Pioneer Cemetery.
Time and Western Washington weather did to stone what they do to the nearby Cascade mountains, pummeling it with grime, water and wind. Over the years, his name and the inscriptions had faded and were unreadable.
On Sunday, the sun was out on a crisp autumn afternoon as Arlington High School Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps provided the color guard and the bugling of “Taps,” and a short remembrance of the Union soldier was read. Among the crowd were some of Grant’s descendants who still live in the area, plus motorcyclists with the American Legion Riders.
It was the culmination of a years-long effort by the Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society to identify unmarked graves at the 173-year-old cemetery.
“It’s important to remember, particularly on this day — that’s Veterans Day — that we honor all that have served in the military,” said Michele Cozad, secretary for the genealogical society. “We’re here to preserve history and so this can be carried forward to the next generation.”
Grant was a corporal in the 138th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers for the Union. After the war, he and his wife and children moved to the Arlington area in the 1880s. The Stilly Valley was a booming timber and farming area then. He died at age 62.
The Stillaguamish Genealogical Society took it upon itself to carry on the legacy of some now-deceased Arlington neighbors who wanted to see the cemetery and its long lost or tarnished headstones restored.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs agreed to replace the headstone. The old one was destroyed according to federal protocol, Caesar said. The volunteer-run nonprofit used $420 of its meager budget to replace the granite base and have it all installed Aug. 1.
“And that was rock-bottom (prices) because we got nonprofit, doing-good-work prices,” said Ruth Caesar, president of the genealogical society.
The society has a special committee for tombstone identification and restoration, but nobody to lead the project. So its members and board leaders worked to see Grant’s marker replaced as a “first step” toward the goal.
Grant’s headstone has his name at the top, his rank and regiment, and his dates of birth and death.
Of the 53 bodies believed to be interred at Pioneer Cemetery, Grant is the first and only to have a headstone above his grave. Finding the rest will require more technology. Genealogical society members said they exhausted their research abilities. Without seeing what’s beneath the ground, they are at a loss.
“We do not know exactly where the rest of the remains are,” Cozad said. “And we’ve been unable to find somebody that’s got ground-penetrating sonar or something to locate those remains.”
Pioneer Cemetery is tucked into a neighborhood on an acre of public access space at the north end of North Gifford Avenue off of East 5th Street. Across the dead-end street are homes. Behind the grassy field with a few trees and shrubs, just a stone’s throw away, is a small apartment building that genealogical society member Bill Grant (no relation to John Grant) said may be built atop long-forgotten graves.
Long before white settlers used the land to bury their dead, the cemetery was a burial site for Native Americans, including the Stillaguamish.
The 50-some people without marked graves at Pioneer Cemetery are a drop in the bucket across the county, said Larry Walker, a member of the genealogical society.
“There’s about 10,000 headstones in Snohomish County that are unmarked,” he said. “And that may be conservative.”
Walker and other volunteers have visited the county’s cemeteries in an attempt to document the graves. It provided a snapshot of what exists, an update to online databases like FindAGrave.com. His goal is to get the unmarked ones identified and eventually marked properly.
Ahead for the Stillaguamish Valley Genealogical Society’s tombstone project is the installation of kiosks at the Trafton and Oso cemeteries.
For now, Cpl. John Grant will have the lone tombstone to greet visitors at Arlington Pioneer Cemetery for years to come.