Friday, December 22, 2017

Tommy Johnson: “Time, Not Vandals, Likely Culprit, Investigator Says”

By Therese Apel – (Jackson, MS) Clarion Ledger – February 7, 2013.

Damage to Copiah County blues legend Tommy Johnson's tombstone appears to have happened when the marker fell over instead of as the result of vandalism, sheriff's department officials say, but family members say missing fencing equipment leads them to another conclusion.

Vera Johnson Collins, who found her uncle's 500 pound headstone broken in pieces when she showed up Sunday at the rural graveyard where he is buried, said Wednesday that almost $2,000 worth of materials to build a wrought-iron fence around the grave were taken over the weekend as well.

"All this happened between Friday and Sunday," she said. The Warm Springs Cemetery sits on a county road that has been newly re-opened. When Collins found the headstone broken Sunday morning, she called the sheriff's department. Officials said because the road is not on E-911 maps yet, a deputy could not find the location.

The cemetery is at the site of the old Warm Springs Methodist Church, which burned in the 1970s. It was given a certificate of historical recognition in 2001, said William Thompson of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Sharing the graveyard with the celebrated musician is another kind of hero, his nephew, PFC B.W. Johnson, a World War II veteran who died in 1967 at the age of 45. Another Tommy Johnson and his wife Inez are there as well. Collins said those were her great-great-grandparents. In another grave lies Sally, a midwife who delivered over 90 babies in her community, Collins said.

Tommy Johnson's headstone stands roughly five feet tall, is more than two feet wide and about four inches thick. It is not attached to the ground anymore, and the screws that bolted it in place at one time are broken. Sheriff's department investigator Milton Twiner said authorities recovered the screws. One was completely bent down, he said, and the other was broken off even with the slab.
However the stone went down and someone took the time to put the bottom part back up. Someone...

A photo taken by Collins on Sunday shows a pick or a screwdriver of some kind wedged beneath the stone. On Wednesday, the same tool was there, and it kept the headstone from rocking forward. Removing it made the stone unstable. Collins said she doesn't believe the stone was off its pins on Sunday. She said she pushed on it with a stick and that it didn't budge. Twiner said while he can't rule out the headstone being pushed over, it doesn't look like it was hit with anything.

"At this point, I believe that the stone fell over. There's no indication that the stone was beat or hit with a hammer when you look around it. I believe it fell on the two-by-four and it broke the top off it," Twiner said. Twiner points to equilateral marks on each side of the front of the headstone that seem to be at about the same spot where the stone would have hit the piece of lumber if the tombstone had fallen on it. A crack can be seen coming from one of the two marks. "This cemetery is not sitting beside the road where you can see it or anybody would see it to create any drama about it, for lack of a better word," Twiner said. William Thompson, a cemetery expert who works with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, said in his experience working with abandoned cemeteries, headstones will turn over if land shifts. If a tombstone isn't set well when placed, over time gravity can take its course. "It would take more than just a year, I would imagine, for a headstone of that size to just fall over," said Thompson. "But if you bump into it and it falls over, that force would be enough to crack or break it."

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