Laramie's Oddest Tombstone: A Mystery is Solved

“BOB. CHARLIE LEFT YOU HERE”

 This is the inscription on a tombstone in Section B, one of the oldest parts of Greenhill Cemetery. The only other thing on it is the date: “May 10, 1894.”

 For years, those coming across the cryptic tombstone have been puzzled. Now, thanks to the sleuthing skills of cemetery volunteer, Kate Browning, the mystery is solved.

 Through the Wyoming Newspaper Project, Browning discovered that on May 6, 1894, a Denver man, Ed Johnson, of unspecified age, died in Laramie. He had left his home on April 19 for a business trip to the Portland, Oregon area. When he did not return home as planned, his wife telegrammed his brother, C. Gardner Johnson, of Vancouver, British Columbia.

 The brother began a search for him in Portland, but then received a telegram stating that the brother was in the care of the county physician, Dr. George Bristol in St. Joseph’s Hospital, Laramie. Dr. Bristol said that the brother was suffering from exposure and was not likely to live.

 The brother hastened by train to Laramie, though he knew by receipt of another telegram from the doctor that his brother had passed away. The brother identified the deceased as Robert Edmund Johnson, and made arrangements for services at the Episcopal Church and burial in Greenhill Cemetery. Presumably he also ordered the tombstone which was probably put in place sometime later.

 C. Gardner Johnson was probably the “Charlie” of the inscription, and “Bob” was Robert Edmund Johnson.  The evening Boomerang of May 10, 1894 reports that “Mr. Johnson will leave tonight for Denver,” perhaps to console Bob’s widow and assure her that he had done all he could for his brother.

 The circumstances of Bob’s death are as bizarre as the tombstone. It seems that around April 22, he got off a UPRR train when it was stopped at Granite Canyon for watering. It wasn’t unusual for passengers to take that opportunity to stretch their legs.

 But Bob never got back on the train. In what the Boomerang called “a temporary aberration of the mind,” Bob wandered off.

 He was found “exhausted and half clad” on April 29 at Red Buttes, a distance of around 20 miles from where he had last been seen. In his emaciated state, someone took him to Laramie.

 The paper reported that Bob had traveled “a great part of the world and had seen many years of outdoor life in Australia, and owing to these facts stood the exposure longer than he probably would otherwise.” He had apparently been wandering over a week in the Sherman Hills east of Laramie.

 At the time of Bob’s disappearance, it was a common belief that high altitude could cause temporary insanity. Granite Canyon, at I-80 milepost 342, is where the UPRR gravel mine and loading facility is now. We know now that altitude like that doesn’t cause insanity—but “altitude sickness” can cause a variety of health issues. Perhaps it did cause Bob to collapse and become disoriented.

 The Wyoming Newspaper Project can be accessed on line at http://newspapers.wyo.gov . Thanks to this index listing the two newspaper stories of May 7 and May 10, 1894, we now know who the mystery man of Greenhill Cemetery was. Now the mystery is—what thoughtful person has placed the artificial flowers on Bob’s tombstone so the world will know he is not forgotten?

Judy Knight

Shown is the tombstone in Greenhill Cemetery Courtesy Judy Knight