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By W. T. Block
It was July of 1901 in Beaumont, and the frenzy of oil excitement rushed on unabated. Gusher No. 15 had just blown in on the hill, and each arriving train deposited a new horde of traders and roughnecks, boomers and hangers-on of every hue in a city that was already smothering with new population. In a few days an oil field fire would sweep across much of Spindletop Hill, proving to all that the quest for quick wealth must be bridled with a safety code.

In the midst of all the oil madness, there emerged one of the strangest tales ever to unfold in the "sawdust city," the case of Beaumont's missing corpse that had turned to stone.

The story began when G. W. Davis, a 46-year-old car repairman for the Gulf, Beaumont, and Kansas City Railroad, contracted a malady diagnosed in January, 1901, as being Bright's disease. On February 7, Mr. Davis died, and since his family owned no burial plot, the management of Magnolia Cemetery agreed to a temporary interment at a remote spot on their property until a cemetery lot was bought and paid for.

A few weeks later, J. R. Carroll, an intimate friend of the Davis family, engaged an assistant and went to the cemetery to transfer the remains to the new plot. After removing the dirt, they quickly discovered that the bottom of the grave had filled with about twenty inches of discolored water, which had to be pumped out.

Despite their best efforts to remove it, the coffin refused to budge. Mystified, Carroll then removed the wooden plate which exposed the corpse's head and torso to view through a glass cover. To his astonishment, he found that the body had become petrified, as white, and solid, and heavy as marble could become, but otherwise had not decomposed except for a part of the upper lip.

All hair had fallen away from the head and face. And to the extent that the glass cover permitted vision, it appeared that the clothing had also, exposing an upper torso that appeared to have been chiseled from marble with the expertise of a sculptor. The eyes were still in place, and even the hands, which were still folded in the usual manner, were "joined together solidly."

Faced with that astonishing dilemma and the extreme weight of the coffin, Carroll had to locate additional help and equipment before he could complete the reburial. No further examination of the body was attempted, and the grave diggers were cautioned to remain silent about its condition. Carroll did not want the family to learn of the strange occurrence, and he also had cause to fear body snatchers. The secret soon leaked out, however, because at least ten persons among the grave diggers and cemetery personnel were privy to the unusual knowledge.

Within a few days, the widow received an offer from an unnamed party to purchase her husband's petrified corpse. She refused, but the would-be purchasers persisted until their offer reached $4,000. In desperation, she ended the bargaining sessions between herself and an intermediary by informing the would-be purchasers that family sentiment would not permit the sale of her husband's body at any price.

As the weeks rolled by, the subject of the petrified corpse was a frequent topic of conversation in the Davis household at 1474 Laurel Street. The family survivors feared that the would-be purchasers, having failed in their efforts to buy the corpse, might rob the grave and sell the body to a circus or carnival. When interrogated by a local reporter, C. J. Davis, a son of the deceased, stated:

"We in the family have discussed the matter not a little, and have finally concluded to take up the body, and if it is found to be in a perfect state of petrifaction, have decided to bring it home with us."

The following Sunday, which was July 1, Davis, Carroll, and several family friends went to the cemetery to exhume the corpse. The cemetery sexton tried to discourage them from completing the unpleasant task, however, explaining that grave bodies sometimes had been known to disintegrate when exposed to the air.

At the burial site, Carroll expressed some fears that the grave site had already been tampered with. The first shovel-full of earth was quite loose and not nearly as compactly settled as it should have been after the passing of three months. And upon uncovering the coffin, his worst fears were indeed confirmed, as Davis revealed to the reporter during the interview:

"We finally opened the grave to find that the corpse was gone. The lid of the coffin had been removed and replaced, and the boards, which had been placed across the top of the coffin to protect it from the weight of the earth, were also gone."

"The coffin was taken out, and the bits of clothing and other things in it were removed. But not a sign of the body could be found, and until this minute we know nothing about its whereabouts, nor have we the slightest clue as to who could have stolen it. Of course, we have not made an extensive search. And there is no question but that the grave robbers laid their plans well and far too deep for us to fathom without the help of expert detectives and systematic and costly search that the family cannot afford."

The intermediary, an attorney, disclaimed knowledge of the would-be purchaser's identity, except that he was from out-of-town. Their conversations, except the intial one, had been on the telephone. And certainly, the truthfulness of those who had witnessed the bizarre event seemed beyond question. C. J. Davis was a trusted employee and machinist for the Beaumont Iron Works, and Carroll was a well-known and veracious citizen, not noted for tall tales or pranks, and was a respected member of the E. A. McNeely Insurance firm.

Did Beaumont's missing marble corpse eventually become a freak and ghoulish sideshow in some distant circus or carnival? If so, one could wager that the carnival would never returned to Beaumont for fear of being caught up in a case of grave robbery. So far as is known, the mystery was never resolved and remains to the present day, for a careful check of the newspapers by the writer for months and years afterward revealed no solution or indictments for grave robbery. And as the mad quest for oil gushers sped forward on the hill, the strange case of Beaumont's missing marble corpse was quickly forgotten.
W. T. Block, Jr.
"Cannonball's Tales" >
August 7, 2006 column

Reprinted from Beaumont ENTERPRISE-JOURNAL, September 24, 1978, p. 7-A.
Sources: Galveston DAILY NEWS, "The Body Petrified," July 7, 1901, p. 2, c. 5; also Beaumont JOURNAL, July 6, 1901, p. 8, c. 1
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