The search is on to find out how an old tombstone ended up in Propst Park.
Columbus resident Brett Hendrix found the unexpected headstone recently while playing disc golf at the park.
“I threw my disc in that general area, and it landed close to it,” he said. “When I was going to it, I noticed the headstone sticking out of the leaves. I uncovered it, and there it was.”
The tombstone, discolored in places from age and missing a portion of its left side, bears the name of Lee Tillis from Florida. According to the markers on the tombstone, he was born in 1903 and died in 1948. The marker bears a cross at the top, for Tillis’ faith, and “PFC” for his rank of private first class.
The tombstone also has markers for both world wars.
Mooseroots, a genealogical research website, lists a Lee Tillis from Lee County, Florida, born in 1903 as having served in the military for World War II. According to the site’s records, Tillis, a black man, joined the military in October 1942. The records do not include a death date.
Hendrix is a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1994 to 2002 and recently moved back to Columbus. He said his service and the veteran markers on the tombstone compelled him to try to determine what happened.
“I said that whoever this poor man is deserves more than to have his headstone covered in dirt in a park,” he said.
Since finding the tombstone, Hendrix met with Columbus-Lowndes Recreation Authority Director Greg Lewis, who told the Dispatch that CLRA is holding the item in a storage facility while Hendrix attempts to find out how it wound up in the park.
Lewis said there’s no one buried in the park to anyone’s knowledge. He added that this is the first tombstone he knows of ever being found there.
“It’s the strangest thing we’ve found,” he said.
Hendrix said he plans to meet with representatives from Friendship Cemetery to determine if the tombstone may have been taken from the graveyard.
Lewis said it’s possible the tombstone may be an old leftover from decades ago. Columbus Marble Works once donated old scraps or misprinted pieces of marble to the park to lay down as walkways, he said, and it’s possible the tombstone was a misprint that somehow ended up forgotten in the park.
Key Blair, manager of Columbus Marble Works, said he couldn’t speak to what the company may have done with spare marble pieces decades ago. Now, however, the company has scraps or misprinted marble pieces ground up and discarded.
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.