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Tombstone mystery

Photo Caption: View of the Hidalgo Panteon cemetery looking towards corner of Dittlinger and Peace Avenue.

Photo Caption: View of the Hidalgo Panteon cemetery looking towards corner of Dittlinger and Peace Avenue.

Photo Caption: Headstone of Theodore Klaus in Hidalgo Panteon.

Photo Caption: Headstone of Theodore Klaus in Hidalgo Panteon.

By Keva Hoffmann Boardman —

Last week Sylvia Segovia and I were walking through Hidalgo Panteon searching for the graves of several people. If you have never visited this charming little cemetery, you are in for a truly cultural treat. You will find rows and rows of concrete crosses and headstones of many designs. Most are whimsically personalized with multi colored tiles, marbles and seashells. Traces of paint, usually white, remain on many of the older monuments. Old photos of the cemetery reveal that at one time most all of the markers gleamed white. The names of the inhabitants were inscribed in the wet concrete and sometimes reveal not only names and dates, but place of birth, and relationships.

Color abounds in this cemetery and there is a feeling of celebration of life rather than grief of death. The names will be familiar as many of those early 1900 names are still present in today’s population. The land for Hidalgo Panteon was secured through the hard work of Francisco Estevez in 1918. Estevez was and still is well-known for his extreme efforts, in the early 1900s, to improve working conditions and better the lives of the Hispanic population in New Braunfels. Francisco Estevez also helped to preserve Mexican traditions and customs through participation in local organizations: The Association Cuahatemoc, the Hidalgo Lodge and the Comision Honorifica.

Walking and reading headstones, I stopped to take a photo and heard Sylvia shout, “Oh my God! There is a German man in here!” Sure enough, randomly leaning up against the fence that separates Hidalgo Panteon from Perpetuo Secorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) is a stone of crystalized white limestone with “Hier ruht Theodore Klaus, 1871-1885.”

Well, that is puzzling. First of all, there is the date of 1885. Hidalgo Panteon’s land wasn’t obtained until 1918. There are many headstones bearing death dates in 1919. Secondly, the headstone’s material is all wrong. Where is the concrete that even now dominates the gravesites in this cemetery? It sticks out like what it is, a German headstone.

Back at the Sophienburg, we dove “head first” into this “headstone” mystery. I went for family info while Sylvia got into Find-a-grave online. Theodore was listed as being buried in Hidalgo Panteon AND at the Confederate Cemetery in San Antonio! But wait, ”the plot” thickens.

I looked through the German Neu Braunfelser Zeitung and found a very descriptive obituary for Theodore Klaus:

Last Sunday afternoon between 3 and 4 o’clock, Theo Klauss, the son of Wilhelm Klauss, the well-known and popular postmaster of Danville, shot himself by accident. Theodore was on the hunt and was about to step over a stone fence, rifle in hand, when the gun went off and he was shot in the chest. The barrel of the rifle was so close to his body at the time the shot was fired that his clothing was burned. The dear boy lived for about one more hour. The burial took place on Monday afternoon at 4 o’clock in the afternoon in the New Braunfels Cemetery with many people attending. The pastor of the local Catholic parish held the funeral services according the rites of the Catholic Church. “Rest in peace poor boy.” We share heartfelt sympathy for the great pain of those left behind.

Not only is this a seriously tragic story about the death of a 14-year-old, but did you notice where Theodore was buried? New Braunfels Cemetery on the other side of town! Sheesh. Now he is in three cemeteries.

I grabbed the sexton records for burials in NB Cemetery (by the way, it’s the oldest public cemetery in town). Theodore was listed as burial #569 in 1885. I also found listings for a Klaus infant in 1876, a sister in 1902 and a father in 1902. Time for a field trip to this cemetery.

I found only one Klaus headstone. It belongs to Jacob Klaus (1830-1872) who was Theodore’s uncle. What happened to the others? Just slightly more disconcerting was that Jacob’s headstone is exactly the same design and size of my poor friend Theodore’s. I also noticed that the stone next to Uncle Jacob’s was the same design and size but was for another Danville area family; they were neighbors in life and in death.

Ok. I had to step back and rethink this mystery from a different angle. I contacted the Confederate Cemetery in San Antonio. That cemetery was first used in 1855, but was bought by Confederate veterans in 1885 and renamed, The Confederate Cemetery. It was to be utilized by Civil War Veterans, their dependents and later descendants. It also contains veterans from WWI and WWII. Unfortunately, there are no early written records for the cemetery. But it wasn’t a complete “dead end.” I was informed that near Theodore rest the remains of the father (plus wife) and the sister that had disappeared from the New Braunfels Cemetery, probably at the same time as Theodore.

For now, I can only surmise that sometime after 1902, the Klaus family (some of whom lived in San Antonio) must have reinterred Theodore, dad and sister in the Confederate Cemetery. I have someone looking into government records to see if Theodore’s father, Wilhelm, participated in the Civil War. But who knows?

My best guess is that the original Klaus Family headstones, including Theodore’s, were discarded after the remains were moved. Newer style monuments grace the graves in San Antonio. Like German Americans, Mexican Americans don’t like seeing good material wasted, so I wonder if someone didn’t just rescue the abandoned headstones for reuse. With that in mind, I made another trip to Hidalgo Panteon to take another look and Theodore’s headstone praying that on the back side I would find the remnants of reuse — maybe added writing?

Nope. I guess the travels of Theodore Klaus’s headstone across town will remain a mystery.

Sources: https://www.findagrave.com/; https://www.ccasatx.org/; Sophienburg Museum newspaper collection and family history collection; research materials for Hidalgo Panteon and New Braunfels Cemetery.