Editor’s Note: These photos of old gravestones found on a Boundary Street property ran with our Looking Back in The Neepawa Press Sept. 12 issue. Since its publication, Looking Back historian Cecil Pittman and our office have received numerous requests for more information on the topic. Below are two stories ran in consecutive editions in The Neepawa Press in September of 1972; the first story focuses on the history of the home these gravestones were found in, while the second gets to the root of the gravestone’s history. They tell the story of Neepawa’s “Mystery Tombstones”...
Workmen find mystery tombstones
Originally published Sept. 14, 1972
Ray Speiss, excavating a basement for a new home on Boundary Street in Neepawa, unearthed two gravestones just a few inches below the ground surface.
Immediately the story of the discovery of unknown bodies swept through the town like a prairie fire.
Imagination added to hearsay and soon a full-fledged Conan Doyle mystery was waiting for some unknown sleuth, by acute observation and brilliant deduction, to solve a century old murder, or a secret burial before the turn of the century.
The mystery deepens when it is discovered that the latest date on the tombstones is 1878 and the earliest date of the land being possessed was when it became a homestead of Andrew Baker in 1881, before the town of Neepawa was incorporated.
The plot thickens when we observe that the names on the tombstones belong to the family name of Brown, and yet there is no record of anyone by that name having possessed or lived on the property.
The truth is this property changed hands many times in the early years until it was finally purchased by a chap named Irwin in 1892 when the land was subdivided.
He sold the east half to Margaret Jean Irwin in 1907 and she applied for a torrence title in 1927.
Some time in those years a house was built on it in which a number of families lived at different times. It was later owned by a Mrs. Hawksley and rented as a revenue house.
It was torn down within the last year or so.
Despite rumour to the contrary, no bodies were found in the excavation and no signs of anyone having been buried there.
The tombstones were evidently turned face down a number of years ago and believed to be used for a sidewalk and over the years they got trampled in the dirt and buried.
There are two stones. One is in memory of Janet, beloved daughter of John and Helen Brown, who died Nov. 1, 1850, age three years, seven months, 17 days; also their son, John, who died Aug. 29, 1856, age five months, six days.
The other stone reads: In memory of David B. Brown, who died Nov. 3, 1865, age 76 years, a native of Berwickshire, Scotland, and his wife, Elizabeth Scott, died July 21, 1878, age 87 years, eight months, four days.
There is no gruesome story of murder or mysterious burials here but there is a mystery.
Who are the Browns? Where did they live? How did the tombstones happen on this property on Boundary Street in Neepawa?
Where do these stones really belong if they are to mark the final resting place of one of the pioneers?
Tombstone mystery is partly solved
Originally published Sept. 21, 1972
The appearance of two tombstones, discovered when workmen uncovered them while excavating a basement on Boundary Street, which created an air of mystery around Neepawa last week, has been partly solved, at least.
It appears that in the early days in 1881, before the Town of Neepawa was incorporated, two brothers by the name of Howatt lived here.
One was a baker and operated a bake shop and confectionery where the present Hurrell’s Bakery stands, and the other brother was a drayman.
There were also salesmen in those days, who came from the East and sold gravestones to the pioneers in the West.
These men would take orders and then ship the stones to their customers. Apparently two of these stones were sent to Neepawa by mistake and as there was no one to claim them, they became the property of the drayman.
He had no use for them so he took them to the other Howatt, the baker and candy maker.
He turned them upside down and used them as a table to pour out his candy on to cool. They were quite satisfactory and no one would ever suspect they were tombstones.
In 1919, the bakery was sold to Sam Seaborn and renovated and a new marble slab was used in place of the tombstones.
The chap who delivered the bread for the bakeshop, by the name of Claude Tyler, was asked to take the old tombstones out to the nuisance ground and get rid of them.
Instead he took them home and used them for steps. He lived on Boundary Street.
Mr. Tyler, who was in Neepawa for a few days this week, is now living in Selkirk and he told his story to Mr. Hurrell of Hurrell’s Bakery.
He is visiting the home of T.H. Pilgrim.
This solves part of the mystery but still leaves some important questions unanswered.
Where were the tombstones supposed to go instead of Neepawa? Who are the Browns? Did they ever really come west? Or are they buried somewhere without a suitable marker?
Was the company who produced the markers obliged to replace them when these became lost? Will anyone ever know?