Whole Number 70
Mrs. John Peterka of Swisher, Iowa, has sent us a clipping from the May 9, 1970, issue of the Ottunwa Courier published in Ottumwa, Iowa, which had been sent to her by a friend. This account tells of the recent discovery of a grave stone bearing the inscription “EDWIN J. SPARKS, 1814-1902, INTERRED IN CITY OF MEXICO” beneath the floor boards of an old barn which was being torn down in the town of Batavia, Iowa. The account reads as follows:
“Two Batavia men got a startle when they were tearing down an old barn here Friday (May 8, 1970). Ripping out a piece of flooring they discovered a grave which had been hidden for nearly seven decades.. Don Bihain and Gerald Smith found the tombstone on the Marion Purdun property located in the town ‘s west end. Inscription of the marker is: “Edwin J. Sparks, 1864 -1902, Interred in City of Mexico.”
“‘It really surprised me when I lifted up the plank and saw a tombstone,’ said Bihain. ‘At first I thought I was seeing things.’
“The grave might not have been found for many years had it not been for a family from California moving to town. Ron Weldon and his family are fixing up the property and had acquired the two men’s services to transform a barn into a garage. ‘It ‘s strange and hard to believe,’ stated Weldon. ‘It sounds like something you would read in a mystery magazine.’
“Not a single clue had been uncovered in the strange and baffling case. Numerous questions have been asked but as yet no one has the answers. Authorities have been unable to determine whether the barn was erected over the grave or whether the barn was constructed before 1902. Several persons surmised the Mexico referred to on the headmarker is Mexico, Missouri. Local officials said they plan to check with Missouri to learn if the grave was moved from there.
“Several senior citizens recall a Clyde Sparks and his two sisters who resided in town during the early 1900’s but could not connect the names. The covering over the grave, which is illegal, preserved the condition of the marble and granite tombstone for nearly 68 years. Some people feel there is more behind the case while others assume there is a simple logical reason for it. Whichever it may be, the hidden grave mystery remains unanswered and many feel that’s how it will remain.”
The town of Batavia is located in Jefferson County, Iowa, just over the line from Wapello County, in the south-east corner of the state. The town of Mexico is the county-seat of Audrain County, Missouri, and is located about 100 miles south of Batavia.
We are not able to identify this Edwin J. Sparks from our Association records. We do have a record of a widow named Sarah Sparks who was born ca. 1825 in Kentucky and was living in Mexico, Missouri, when the 1870 census was taken. She was quite wealthy, owning $20,000 worth of real estate. Living with her was an eleven-yearold girl named Mary Sparks, probably a daughter; also living with her was a Sallie Casady, aged 22, who was listed as “boarding.” A black female servant named Nett Jackson was living in the household, as well as a four-year-old black girl named Minnie Jackson, probably a daughter of Nett. Ten years earlier, according to the census of 1860, this same Sarah Sparks was listed as living in Mexico, Missouri., with Margaret Muldrow. At that time (1860) Sarah Sparks (her name was given as S. J. Sparks) was listed as 35 years old, while Margaret Muldrow was 56. Little Mary (called M. E. Sparks) was listed as 3 years old in 1860.
Can anyone identify this Edwin J. Sparks?