Remembering Former Newsday Columnist Ed Lowe (1946-2011)
"If I hear a story that moves, amuses, angers or saddens me so much that I want to tell it to another person, then it's likely a story worth writing."
A Gravestone Mystery
This is Ed Lowe's Original Column from Newsday Sunday Magazine July, 1986
On a Wednesday morning in late June, while preparing for a fairly courageous life-change that involved moving the entire family from Huntington, NY to Los Angeles, Calif., Karen Pettit found a black leather, passport-size wallet and handed it to her husband, Andrew Roger Pettit.
Pettit, then the president and general manager of radio station WGLI and by now a student in a selective television film-producing program at the University of Southern California, opened the leather folder and discovered it to be a pass to the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles, issued to his uncle, Roger Pettit. “I looked at the thing, and I said, ‘I don’t even know how I got this,’” Pettit recalled. “My Uncle Roger died in 1953. I was born the following February, on his birthday. I never knew him, but that’s where I got my middle name. I was named for him.”
Pettit shrugged; Karen continued cleaning out the bureau, and Pettit left for the radio station in Babylon. Moments after he returned to the house later that afternoon, he received a telephone call from his good friend Peter Boccard, who also lived in Huntington. Boccard asked Pettit if he had a relative named Roger. Pettit said that he did. “He was my father’s only sibling,” Pettit told Boccard, “and, in fact, I was named for him. My middle name is Roger. We were born on the same date. Why? What’s up?”
Boccard said he was driving along Bayberry Place in Huntington, and at the corner of New York Avenue and Bayberry, he spied a tombstone in a vacant lot that builders apparently had been excavating. “It’s a gravestone,” Boccard said, “actually a footstone. It says, ‘Roger Pettit, Born February 2, 1914; Died November 12, 1953.’”
“What’s it doing there?” Pettit asked.
“It’s just sitting there. Right on the corner.”
“It was crazy,” Pettit recalled later. “I didn’t know what to think. I know the Huntington Rural Cemetery is not far from there, and I figured that maybe vandals moved the stone and dumped it. Then I thought, maybe my parents are having the burial site refurbished or something. I couldn’t figure it out, and I didn’t want to burden my father with it. I figured he’d have a heart attack.
“I call my mother. My father is in the other room. I say, ‘Are you doing anything with Dads brother’s gravesite?’ She says, ‘No, why?’ So, now I have to tell her.
“I call Peter back, and I say, ‘Listen, I don’t want to burden you or anything, but I’m going down there. If you want to meet me there, I’ll be there in five minutes or so.’ He says, ‘Okay, I’ll be there.’”
Boccard was standing in the lot when Pettit arrived. Pettit did not see a stone until he walked to the spot where Boccard stood. “I can’t believe you saw this from the road,” Pettit said.
“It was weird,” said Boccard. “It just caught my eye, and I pulled over and stopped.”
Pettit hadn’t visited his family gravesite since 1969, when his grandmother had died. He and Boccard hefted the stone and place it in the trunk of Pettit’s car, then drove to the Huntington cemetery.
“I had no idea where the site was,” Pettit said. “The last time I was there, I was 15. I couldn’t figure out which way to go. We drove in and took the road straight to the top of a hill. When we got there, I said ‘It’s right over that ridge.’
“’How do you know?’ Peter asked me.
“I said, ‘I don’t know, but it is. I’m sure. It’s right over that ridge.’
“We walk over, and there’s the big headstone with the name ‘Pettit,’ and then on the ground in front of it are the footstones: ‘Water R. Pettit,’ my grandfather, ‘Martha Pettit,’ my grandmother; and there’s ‘Roger Pettit,’ same as our stone. So, we said, ‘Well, there’s no vandalism. Maybe the corner was the site of a stonecutter’s store, and maybe he made a mistake on the first one, put the wrong dates on it, or something.’ We run back to the car and match the dates and spellings. The thing is perfect. No mistakes. Our stone is even polished. We look for nicks and scratches. Nothing. Perfect shape.
“We went back to the lot where we had found it and walked around. We did find larger pieces of granite, but not much more. And I remembered that as a kid, I don’t know, somewhere along that strip, I remembered there was a stonecutter’s shop. I did find a radio, by the way, from 1919. It was an RCA Radiola. The cabinet was totally destroyed, but I took the copper plate off that said RCA. I kind of collect that stuff, because I’m in radio.”