Sleuthing for Stalactite Tombstones

Posted July 8th, 2018

“So this is what we come to – our final resting place becomes a repository for old long underwear bottoms and empty Pringles cans,” said biologist Eugene Vale, as he looked down into a narrow gravesite surrounded by old concrete walls. I looked and saw what he was referring to, for there inside the walls of the gravesite lay a deteriorated chip can and a striped pair of long johns. Eugene had joined us for our cemetery sleuthing for stalactite tombstones near  Eminence, Missouri.

Jo Schaper, another member of our sleuthing party and a geologist and expert spelunker, had heard about tombstones of stalactite in the cemetery there. Since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to stop. We searched high and low, finding the usual funerary symbols of broken buds, pointy fingers and little lambs, but no stalactites. We found unusual tombstones, though – shaped like logs lying sideways on bases. 

We left the cemetery sorely disappointed, and Jo could not believe that her informant had misled her. Upon return to our lodging, the Presley Center on the Current River, which is an old hunting lodge that the Missouri Department of Conservation acquired in the early ’90s, I told Marty and Joel Vance about our quest. “Why, just go on down to the cemetery near Akers Ferry and you’ll find them,” said Marty.  

Joel later recalled, “We saw them many years ago – I think when we did a New Year’s Eve float [on the Current River] with a canoe club from Kansas City.  Got to watch a man clad only in a swimming suit shave in the river on New Year’s Day.  It was about 15 degrees.  Also got to see Nancy Jack dressed up as the New Year (diaper & long johns) come down the river in a canoe as part of a ceremony.”

The next day my husband and I stopped at Akers Cemetery on Highway KK, near the ferry crossing on the river, to find the stones. Sure enough, there stood two stalactites standing near graves at the back of the cemetery. One stood straight and the other one leaned toward a modern marker. That one also had a plastic lamb, plastic flowers and other accoutrements around it. 

cemetery stalactite tombstone MOAs I crouched to take photos, the north wind whipped fiercely across the old cemetery. When I returned home, I immediately contacted Jo, and told her of our findings. She got in touch with her friends in the rock business, and wrote back: “According to Wilma Mahan O’Flaherty in her book, ‘Famous Cemeteries of the Ozarks,’ the stalactites in the Akers Cemetery were hauled by wagon overland from caves near Greenville, Tenn., where the founding family were from. X-ray diffraction analysis conducted of a tiny chip at UMR’s McNutt Hall confirms the presence of spelenite, a cave mineral found only in caves of the Greenville region.” 

She continued, “Scientists are not exactly sure why, if they had to go so far to obtain grave markers, they didn’t just bury them at the home place.” She surmised, “Perhaps they had Tennessee land troubles of the same sort as those which caused Daniel Boone to originally be buried in Marthasville, Missouri, not Kentucky.”

stalactite tombstonesI then called the Akers Ferry Convention Center and Visitors Bureau and requested a tourism package. It came a few days later, along with a brochure highlighting the official tour of the cemetery, where “folklore tells that stalactites as headstones point the way to Heaven, in that what was once turned downward, is now broken and inverted to point upward.”


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