Valley Brook Cemetery in Breckenridge weathers storm
BRECKENRIDGE, Colorado ” The 100 mph winds that blasted through the historic Valley Brook Cemetery on Halloween in 1997 knocked down more than a thousand lodgepole pines, sending them crashing onto headstones and wrought-iron fences before halting abruptly at Baby Eberlein’s monument.
“They went like dominos to the grave and just stopped,” said town historian Rebecca Waugh.
Earlier that month, the grave of the infant had been relocated to Valley Brook to rest next to her mother and brother, more than two centuries after her death in 1879.
In the 11 years since the otherworldly windstorm, the Town has invested more than $200,000 into restoring the cemetery’s damaged features and has dealt with seemingly supernatural phenomena.
“I’m not a ghost freak or a believer in total strange things,” said Paul Cornett, a sculpter from Bailey restoring the ironwork. “I know that ” based on my experience with that ” there’s probably a whole lot more going on in the world than you would think.”
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Cornett, 66, refers to an unexplained occurrence in his shop, where he and his son, Mason, 34, worked on an 8-foot section of iron fence in the spring of 2007.
The iron bent in three directions by as much as 45 degrees.
Mason held the panel on the ground and used a sledgehammer to begin straightening it.
“It’s not something you could just put over your knee and bend,” said Cornett, who stood about 15 feet away with his back turned.
“He put that piece of (fencing) on the floor and I heard him hit it,” Cornett said. “At the same time that he hit it, there was another sound … you would think to be totally disassociated with it.”
He said it was a whooshing sound he couldn’t recognize ” “sheew ” something like that.”
“My son was bent over at the waist, looking down saying: ‘Oh my God. Oh my God,'” Cornett recounted. “I walked over, and that rail, after he hit it one time, was straight as an arrow.”
Through all his years working with metal, Cornett said he’d never seen anything this unusual, with the metal straighter than either he or his son could have smithed.
“I know metal, and I can tell you that one blow of a hammer could not have done what it did without some other influence,” he said.
That particular piece of fence now stands at the grave of Charles Walker, who died in 1903. Mere steps away lies Baby Eberlein’s grave.
Walker, a Yankee Civil War veteran, is the only Valley Brook occupant known to have fought in a Tennessee battle against John Cabell Breckinridge, the disputed namesake of the town.
There are no Confederate graves in Valley Brook Cemetery, although that’s not particularly unusual in the West.
“Most of the Confederates that came west just ended up not having military markers, and I don’t know why,” said stonemason David Via, who also is working on the restoration.
Established in 1882, the cemetery is the final resting place for about 1,200 people, and plots are still available.
More than a decade after the windstorm, the town continues its restoration effort, pledging to spend $15,000 annually through 2013, according to its 2009 proposed budget.
The team responsible for improving the cemetery includes a team of Waugh, Cornett, Via, a land planner, an archaeologist, the town clerk and a botanist.
Cornett completed his work on the cemetery’s fences last week.
Via travels the country repairing damaged monuments. In 18 years of working on the funeral stones, he said Valley Brook is one of the most original cemeteries ” with the largest concentration of decorative iron fences ” he’s seen.
The landscape is natural, and the lack of irrigation has helped to preserve the features, he said, adding that the lack of vandalism also has helped the cemetery maintain its character.
“It’s a beautifully cared-for and not overdone cemetery,” he said.
The cemetery has won an award from Colorado Preservation and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
A stroll through the cemetery reveals a variety of beautiful stonework, from lambs, cherubs and infants to urns, crosses and Irish clovers. Sections are divided among Masons, the Independent Order of Red Men, the French, military veterans, Catholics and others.
Baby Eberlein had been buried at another cemetery on the south end of town near the present-day site of the Conoco at Boreas Pass Road and Colorado 9, but her grave was left undisturbed when the cemeteries were consolidated and many ” but not all ” of the remains were moved in 1882.
When the baby’s marker was relocated to Valley Brook in 1997, there was a procession down Main Street and a wake at the Gold Pan Restaurant.
Her simple white tombstone tells a sad story of a life never realized.
Clever one-liners and soulful poems mark other monuments in the cemetery, including that of Lester Owens: “Step softly. A dream lies here.”
Robert Allen can be contacted at (970) 668-4628 or firstname.lastname@example.org.