The Mystery of the Child’s Tomb
A fictional story about the famous Inez Clark memorial
Having said goodbye to her own daughter, Moira makes her way across Graceland Cemetery to the famous memorial to Inez Clark. Moira couldn’t quite say what compelled her to visit this little girl’s grave on each of her trips to the cemetery. Her therapist would probably say she made a connection between this famous six-year-old who was purportedly struck by lightning while on a picnic with her parents and her own little girl who tragically drowned in the pool at their Outer Bank’s vacation home. Both little ones were taken too soon by elements of nature. But Moira thought it was more than that.
Something about Inez’s mysterious story troubled her. For one, the official records of Graceland Cemetary list the plot below the memorial as belonging to one Amos Briggs, not Inez Clark. Also, according to the 1880 census, no one by the name of Inez Clark lived in the Chicago area. There were also the legends surrounding this memorial, namely that during thunderstorms cemetery workers have found the glass holding the girl’s statute empty. As if the little girl ran away in fright. Or the rumors that visitors to the girl’s grave had reported hearing the stone child weeping. Taken together, Moira couldn’t shake the feeling that the little girl wasn’t at peace and that troubled her.
“Pardon me, miss,” a soft voice said instantly startling Moira back to reality. She turned around to see a young caretakers standing some ways behind her, leaning on a rake. “Can I ask why you visit Miss Clark’s memorial every week? Are you a distant relative?”
Embarrassed, Moira shook her head. “Oh, no. Nothing like that. It’s silly really. Something about the rumors surrounding this little girl troubles me. I guess I would just like to know her real story. Maybe that would let her rest in peace.” Having now put her musings into words, Moira immediately realizes how crazy she sounds. She admits, “Maybe I’m just letting my imagination get the best of me.”
The young man kindly shakes his head. “No, I understand. There is something about this stone girl encased in glass that appeals to many cemetery visitors. It is one of our most frequented graves.” He then smiles awkwardly adding, “But most visitors don’t return on a weekly basis, I’ll admit.”
Not wanting to seem obsessed, Moira rushes to explain, “Oh, I don’t come every week to see Inez. I come to visit my daughter, Lyra. She died a couple of years ago in a drowning accident. I spend most of my time talking to her. I just stop and say a quick hello to Inez on my way out.”
The caretaker processes this information without the usual fluster most people exude upon learning of her child’s passing. Moira assumes this must be because the caretaker deals with the mundane details of death on a daily basis. Every day he tends to hundreds of tombs carrying the names and dates of those who have departed, many of whom were taken at tender ages. These revelations no longer shock him.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he says kindly. “How old was she?”
“She was four. We had rented a beach house with my extended family. We lost track of her while making dinner. My husband found her just a few minutes after she must have jumped in. But it was too late.” The memory of Mark screaming for Moira to call 911 while diving to the bottom of the pool to retrieve Lyra’s lifeless body fills her mind. It is one of Moira’s last memory’s of Mark as he would never again return to their condo in Chicago. Mark apparently dealt with grief by running away.
The caretaker peered intently into Moira’s face as if trying to decide something. Finally, he seemed to make up his mind. He stood up straight and nodded to a bench. “My family has been taking care of Graceland for generations. My great grandfather was the caretaker here when Miss Clark was laid to rest. Would you like to hear the story as I’ve come to know it?”
Moira felt a jolt of exhilaration run through her and she nodded fervently. The caretaker led the way to a stone bench on the edge of the path, still within eyeshot of the little girl’s statute. When they were both seated, the caretaker fidgeted seeming to have second thoughts about revealing what he knew to a stranger. Moira grew worried that he’d change his mind.
“Even at four, Lyra had a story that needed to be told. About how she would put on a brave face to strangers or her daycare teachers, but at home often needed cuddles and affirmations for reassurance. About how she loved small animals like bunnies and kittens but was nervous of any creature that was bigger than her. About how she loved to hear stories of her dad and I’s childhood, making us tell the same tales every night before bed. About how her favorite stuffy was a pink bear given to her by her aunt and she wouldn’t fall asleep without it next to her. Inez had a story too. And that story should be told. So that she isn’t just the caricature of a tragic victim.”
The caretaker nodded solemnly. “I supposed you are right. The thing is my great grandfather made a promise to Ms. Clark that he would never reveal what he had learned about Inez’s passing. Ms. Clark was beside herself with worry that this would turn into another scandal. She already had been through a divorce and, in those days, that was a big deal. She was terrified that Inez’s death would further tarnish her family’s image and lead to their ruination. Back then, a woman’s reputation was all that she had.”
“I understand.” Moira sympathized. “But I promise I’ll never breathe a word of what you tell me. It will just bring me some peace to know the truth.”
“Well, the truth is that Miss Inez was struck by a bolt of lightning during a freak summer storm. It was a tragic accident. But she was picnicing with her grandparents, not her mother. See the trouble arose because at the time of her second marriage Ms. Clark signed an affidavit attesting to the fact that she didn’t have any children from her first marriage. It was the only way Mr. Clark would marry her and she needed a husband. So she sent Inez and her brother out east to be raised by her parents. She even changed their last names so they couldn’t be traced back to her. Inez Clark was actually Inez Briggs. When Ms. Clark heard about her daughter’s death she was overcome with remorse for her actions. She saw Miss Inez’s death as a punishment for her deceit. She came to the cemetery and asked that the little girl be buried in the Clark family plot. The one that she and her husband would be buried in when their time came. But she swore all those involved in the arrangements to absolute secrecy. She didn’t want her husband to catch wind of what she’d done until the little girl was ensconced and there was nothing left to be done. No one with a shred of decency would dig up the body of a child. And so that is how Miss Inez came to be here. Her poor mother even commissioned that beautiful sculpture to be placed above her resting place so that her beautiful visage would never be forgotten.”
Moira was still troubled. “If that is the whole story, why is there so much mystery surrounding her? Why does the cemetery claim to not know who is buried in that plot?”
“Well, once Mr. Clark found out what his wife had done, he was livid. He ordered the cemetery to destroy all records regarding Inez. He even went so far as to command his wife to have the statue destroyed, but she refused and he didn’t have the guts to do it himself. From that day on, their marriage continued only in a legal fashion. They remained together childless and unhappy. Such a pity for everyone involved.”
Moira nodded knowingly. “Only the strongest marriages can survive the death of a child. Grief is like a black hole for some people. While others choose to ignore it.”
After sitting for a few more minutes pondering the tale, Moira rose from the bench. “Thank you for telling me her story. Her unrest now makes sense. She was abandoned by her mother before being struck down by an apparent Act of God. Poor little thing. I’ll continue to visit her. But each time I come, I’ll tell her how sorry her mother was and how much she must have loved her to risk everything to give her a proper resting place. We hate to admit it, but even mothers make mistakes. Like being so distracted with dinner arrangements that we forget to close the patio door leading out to the pool.”
With tears in her eyes, Moira turned to leave. Remembering her manners, she turned back and asked, “Can I have your name? I don’t believe you ever said.”
The caretaker responded, “It’s Hoffman. Michael Hoffman. It was nice talking with you, Miss Covey.”
Moira made her way back along the winding path to the parking lot. She was dreadfully late for weekly tea at her mom’s house. Just as she was about to open the door to her Civic, she caught glimpse of a memorial plaque to the caretakers of Graceland over the years. She suddenly became curious to see if the Hoffman family was represented on it. Her eyes scanned the dozens of pictures of caretakers from the mid-1800s to the present. It seemed that many families had multiple generations of caretakers here at Graceland. Finally, she located the Hoffman line: great grandfather Daniel Hoffman, grandfather Charles Hoffman, and father Joseph Hoffman. Moira was just about to turn and leave when she caught sight of an asterisk next to Joseph Hoffman’s name. A similar asterisk came before two lines running along the bottom of the plaque:
Graceland Cemetary will forever hold in its heart the memory of Michael Hoffman, son of caretaker Joseph Hoffman, who was struck by lightning while visiting his father at work. Young Michael was a frequent visitor of Graceland and planned to accept a caretaking position after finishing his studies.
*** A fictional tale based upon the famous statute of Inez Clark at Graceland Cemetary and the rumours surrounding it.