For the past five years Stirling’s Cody Kapcsos has been on a solitary mission to solve the mystery of who’s buried in the abandoned pioneer cemetery near the ghost hamlet of Masinasin.
Kapcsos, who has also spent countless hours restoring the cemetery, could only identify four of the known 11 burials at the site, located about 50 kilometres southeast of his village in southern Alberta.
And back home there was another mystery, also involving pioneer locals who’ve passed on to the afterlife — four tombstones laying on the northeast bank of the village’s fishing pond, a former water reservoir decommissioned several decades earlier. One even bears a name: Nellie Selk, who died at the age of 30 in 1938.
“It might throw some for a loop. It did when I first saw it,” said Kapcsos. “It raises questions about why they are there, and whether somebody is actually buried there.”
While the fish pond has been a popular local recreational spot for many years, the mysterious tombstones have remained largely unnoticed or ignored.
“I knew they were there. I haven’t thought much about them,” said Jack Hicken, a member of the Stirling Historical Society and a resident since 1962.
Hicken said he knew several tombstones at the Stirling Memorial Cemetery had been replaced with the old ones discarded at the pond, although he does not know when. He speculated they were used to control erosion.
“I guess they did it because of the wash of the water and they were looking for rocks,” said Hicken. “The rocks were put there to impede the water wash.”
Ron Bore, a former secretary with
the historical society, also recalls some faded and broken tombstones being replaced years ago, with the old ones placed along the pond’s bank to reduce erosion.
“I have been here a long time and I have not heard any untoward comments regarding the placement there,” said Bore.
But Hicken thinks differently, and wants them removed.
“It could be sacrilegious, I guess, in a sense,” he said. “I could take a look and make a recommendation to council. But it’s just kind of dumb they be there. Either remove them or break them up so nobody could tell what they were.”
Mike Selk, the village’s chief administrative officer, said the monuments are actually capstones, which are placed over gravesites — even the one with Nellie Selk’s name, a relative of his.
Selk said he knew about the monuments at the pond and has never taken “personal offence,” but concedes it might now be necessary to finally remove them.
“This is something that will probably be taken care of appropriately,” said Selk.
In the meantime, Kapcsos has finally solved both mysteries. In January, he received a full list of all known burials at the Masinasin Cemetery from the Alberta Genealogical Society. And recently, he found Nellie Selk’s new tombstone at her gravesite in the local cemetery.
Still, he’s bewildered why full tombstones were ever placed at the pond.
“A boulder would have done the job or they could have at least pulverized the concrete rather than just dumping the whole things in.”