She approached me shyly at my booth at the paranormal conference last weekend. “Strange things sometimes happen to me,” she said, “but I never feel as if I can tell anyone about them. I don’t think they would understand. I’ve never been to a conference like this one, where people talk about ghosts.”
I sensed that she had something she wanted to tell me, so I prompted her. “Do you want to tell me about one of those strange experiences?”
She jumped at the chance. Pulling her cell phone from her pocket, she said, “I like to walk in cemeteries. I’m not morbid, I just think they are beautiful.”
I was pleased to hear her say that, because I am a bit of a taphophile, myself (I love cemeteries). I believe, as did Marcus Tullius Cicero, that “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
She scrolled through the pictures on her phone until she found the photo she wanted to show me. It was a picture of a very simple headstone, obviously provided by the military.
Though there were weeds around the base that obscured part of the epitaph, parts of it were perfectly clear. The part of the engraving that I could see included these words: “Tony Starks Died March 11, 1919.”
The young woman gulped before continuing with her tale. Obviously, she was a bit disturbed by what she had experienced. “I was walking in a cemetery in Houston near Lockwood and Interstate 10,” she said. “I don’t remember the name of the cemetery, but I bet you can find out which one it was. That day, it was my lunch break and I just wanted to enjoy the peace and quiet of the cemetery.”
“I saw this headstone and took a picture. You can’t read the words because of the weeds, but it said that he was only twenty-six years old. I think it said he was a Captain, or something. Anyway, I felt so sad that he had died so young. Just as I took the picture, a clock somewhere chimed 1 o’clock. My lunch break was over. I don’t know why, but I had a sudden urge to salute this young soldier … and I did. Then, I went back to work.”
“Since that day,” she whispered, “every day at 1o’clock my cell phone time switches to Military Time. The clock on the phone displays 1300. I used to try to change it, but I decided just to leave it that way. Maybe he is trying to tell me something?”
Intrigued, I came home with the information from the tombstone and began to search Ancestry.com to find more about the young soldier she had saluted. I’m always curious about the “back story.” Although I have found a little bit about him, it’s difficult to flesh out the young man’s history. You see, he was a young man “of color” — and significant life events weren’t always formally recorded for black people in his day.
He wasn’t a Captain. Private Tony Starks is buried in the “Evergreen Negro Cemetery” near several family members, although the Find A Grave records don’t calculate his relationship to them. I’m trying to rectify that. The cemetery itself is an interesting one. According to Find A Grave.com, “The Evergreen Negro Cemetery is the third oldest African-American Cemetery in Houston. There are former slaves and World War I veterans buried in this cemetery. In 1960, 490 individuals, more or less, were removed by the City of Houston to expand Lockwood Drive from Sonora to Library Road. Re-interments were in other sections of the cemetery as well as at Eternity Park Cemetery, Oak Park Cemetery and Paradise Cemetery.” Hopefully, Tony Starks is still buried with his tombstone.
Born December 12, 1893, he was the son of Mose and Nancy (nÃ©e Dudley) Starks (also recorded in historical as Starke, Starkes). From what I can find, he lived most of his life in Houston. His draft registration card in 1917 indicated that Tony Starks was a laborer, and he signed his name with an “X,” so he was illiterate.
His death certificate indicates that Private Tony Starks was in Company A. 434th Labor Battalion stationed at Camp Logan in Houston. The certificate records that he was married, though I have found no evidence of his wife’s name yet. The cause of death was “dilatation of the heart, acute.” The certificate doesn’t offer much more information than that.
Could Captain Tony Starks be trying to tell his visitor something? Perhaps he is thanking her for the respect she paid him. It’s doubtful that a young, illiterate, black laborer got a lot of respect in 1919 … even if he died while in service to his country.