Bernie Zimmerman: The mystery of the 3 headstones
Lying serenely beneath a mighty oak on a bucolic farm a few miles north of Nevada City are three Jewish headstones.
The stones were brought to my attention about a year ago. After looking at them, I decided to try to figure out who were the people that the stones memorialize, and why are they buried where they are.
The top of two of the stones is inscribed in Hebrew. The Hebrew inscription is heavily eroded and, except for an occasional word such as soul or man, largely unreadable. Likely the words are ritual expressions such as “may his soul be bound up in the bonds of eternal life” and would not provide much identifying information. The bottom half is in English. Reading from west to east, the first stone is that of Amelia Miller. It reads: Amelia Wife of B.H. Miller Born in Hindsbach Bavaria Jan 3, 1837 Died Dec. 9, 1878 May her soul rest in peace. The middle stone reads: Our b….ed father Solomon Heyman Native of Germany Died Sept. 8, 1881 Aged 68 y… May his soul res ….The third stone reads: In memory of Joseph (possibly Man) who departed this life Sept. 30, 1860 Corres (possibly Corresponding to Hebrew date).
As to the people who may be underneath the stones, Amelia Miller was the wife of Bernhardt H. Miller (1827-1896), a prominent merchant and miner, who had a clothing store on Broad Street. I believe she was Solomon‘s sister, since she came from Hindsbach, or Hundsbach, then in the part of Baden which was part of Bavaria. Hundsbach had a large Jewish community in the 18th and 19th centuries and one of the prominent families was the Heymans. However, there is a tombstone in the Nevada City Jewish Cemetery for Amelia Miller. So where is she buried and why two stones?
Solomon Heyman was born in Baden, then a part of Bavaria, around 1813. At some point prior to 1848, he married Rebecca, either in Baden or in the United States. In the late 1840s, they were living in Michigan and had three children. He was naturalized in Michigan in 1847. Solomon came to Grass Valley prior to Dec. 24, 1851, when he is reported as a charter member of the Grass Valley Masonic Lodge. The report states that he came to California from Illinois. The following year, he was elected an officer of the lodge. In the 1860s, he is reported to have lived in Dutch Flat. The family then moved to Truckee. The 1870 census lists his occupation as saloon keeper. By then, the Heymans had eight children, the five youngest having been born in California.
In February 1874, Solomon, Rebecca and their son Gus were arrested and charged with having received goods stolen from the Central Pacific Railroad at Truckee. Gus was acquitted, and after the jury hung with nine voting for acquittal, the case against Solomon was dismissed. Some months later, additional charges were filed against Solomon stemming from the same incident. A jury acquitted him in February 1875.
For Rebecca, the arrest was tragic. After she was released on bond, she took the stage from Nevada City to return to Truckee. En route, she died, apparently from drowning. The newspaper reports of the tragedy are not always consistent. A coroner’s jury determined that she had committed suicide. Under Jewish law, suicide is a sin, so she could not be buried in a consecrated Jewish cemetery. But she was buried in the Nevada City Jewish Cemetery, presumably following a determination that her death was accidental.
Following the tragedy, Solomon left Truckee. In 1875, he was in Virginia City. In 1878, he is listed in the Marysville Directory as operating a saloon in the town of Washington. At some point, he sold his saloon and moved to San Francisco, where he died on Sept. 7, 1881. The Nevada Transcript reported that he was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Nevada City, where his wife was buried, but I have found no record of his burial. So was he buried in a Jewish cemetery or on the farm north of Nevada City?
As for Joseph, I have been unable to find any record of the death of a Joseph in Nevada County on that date, or of a child of Solomon named Joseph. B. H. Miller’s 1896 obituary identifies a surviving son named Joseph, and Amelia’s 1878 obituary states that she is survived by an unnamed son. It is conceivable that the Millers had a son named Joseph who died in 1860 and then named their second son Joseph as well.
Determining why the stones are buried where they are proved to be more elusive. Jews during the Gold Rush era who were memorialized by a stone with all or part of the words in Hebrew, as these were, were likely to have been fairly observant of Jewish religious ritual. So it is highly unlikely that Jews buried under these stones would have been buried in unconsecrated ground.
One of the many people who helped me try to solve this mystery is Pat Chesnut, the head librarian at the Searls Historical Library. She thought that there was no one buried beneath the stones and that likely they had been removed from either the Grass Valley or Nevada City Jewish cemeteries when they were vandalized, possibly by the vandal or possibly for safekeeping. She put me in touch with John Grebenkemper, an internationally recognized cadaver hunter, who among many other fascinating adventures, was dispatched by National Geographic magazine to the South Pacific to hunt for the remains of Amelia Earhart. John has a home in Grass Valley and graciously agreed to join me with his cadaver dog, Kayle.
With the permission of the property owners, I led John and Kayle to the farm, accompanied by fellow landmarks Commissioners Jerry Martin, as photographer, and Chuck Scimeca, as videographer. Kayle ambled around the farm, circled and crossed over the stones, but did not alert. We therefore concluded that it is likely that no one is buried underneath the stones and that Pat Chesnut was right in thinking they started out in one of the Jewish cemeteries in the county. My best guess is that Amelia was buried in the Nevada City cemetery and after her stone was vandalized and removed from the cemetery, a new stone was placed in the cemetery by a family member, and that is the one there today; that Solomon’s stone was moved from the Nevada City cemetery after it was vandalized; and that all this was done for safekeeping possibly by a family member, very likely one of Solomon’s children, perhaps the one who commissioned the stone for a “beloved father.” I remain in the dark about Joseph.
To respect the privacy of its owners, I have omitted the location of the farm.
Bernie Zimmerman is the chairman of the Nevada County Historical Landmarks Commission. He can be reached at email@example.com
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