The Desecration of Our Grandfather's Grave
On August 1st of 2003, we discovered that our grandfather's gravestone had been stolen from the Strand Cemetery. This gravestone had been there for nearly two years. This was a beautiful stone especially selected from an area in Norway from which our grandfather's ancestors hailed. Our grandfather was very proud of his Norwegian heritage, and he served as the family genealogist. The stone also had a portion of his eulogy inscribed on the back. After reporting this theft to the authorities in Adams County, where the cemetery is located, we soon learned that Attorney Swanson had allegedly had our grandmother sign a form to have the gravestone removed by a national company named "Rock of Ages" located in Atlantic, Iowa (aka Atlantic Memorial) and in Winterset, Iowa -- although we have never been provided with the actual document with the alleged signature. (Rock of Ages has repeatedly refused to provide that alleged document to us so it is extremely doubtful she ever signed anything.) This was at a time when Irene was under the guardianship of her son, and the removal of the gravestone had to have been instigated by Attorney Swanson and the son. Rock of Ages did not have the legal right nor authority to remove that gravestone based upon their vindictive wishes or even based upon her alleged signature alone since the gravestone belonged to our grandfather's estate, although Rock of Ages obviously decided to selfishly take advantage of this situation for their own profit. They did not bother to consult with our grandfather's estate prior to taking action to remove the gravestone, thus they did not have the authority to remove the gravestone from a plot that belonged to our grandfather's family. We view this as theft of our grandfather's gravestone, and as the dirtiest, lowest form of retaliation on the part of the Law Firm. Apparently, they had told our grandmother that the monument was too expensive, as if our grandfather nor herself did not deserve a beautiful gravestone, which our grandfather could well afford. Rock of Ages had the nerve to replace the gravestone with a cheaper, ugly one. We have demanded that Rock of Ages restore our grandfather's gravestone, which they have yet to do.
Postnote: The gravestone has now been returned to us. We would not recommend Atlantic Memorial to anyone. They tried to hide our grandfather's gravestone from us for nearly a year, while they falsely claimed that they did not know where the gravestone was located at, even as they were the ones who had removed it from the cemetery and even as they knew precisely where it had been taken. The gravestone was stolen property, and Atlantic Memorial had no legal right to hide that property, which is essentially what they did. We discovered that Atlantic Memorial (aka Rock of Ages) had taken the gravestone to Des Moines, over 120 miles from the cemetery. We had to write letters and call their corporate headquarters in Vermont to get the gravestone returned. This was absolute disrespect for our grandfather's memory and disrespect to our family.
1912 East Seventh Street
Atlantic, IA 50022
August 20, 2003
Dear Atlantic Memorial:
This letter is to notify Atlantic Memorial, and yourself, that Atlantic Memorial did not have the proper authorization to remove the memorial stone from the cemetery lot of Milton Johnson, Jr.. Nor are you entitled to have possession of that memorial stone at this time.
Not only do we consider Atlantic Memorial’s actions a desecration of our father’s grave, but both the monument and the cemetery lot are the property of our father, Milton Johnson, Jr.’s Estate, and I, XXX XXXXX, am co-executor of that estate. You would need to have also received either my authorization and/or the authorization of the Court to have removed that stone.
Our father purchased that cemetery lot (and it is in his family's name alone), and his estate is owner of the lot. Moreover, his widow and our mother, Irene Johnson, authorized the selection of that monument in 2001 in the presence of witnesses, including in the presence of her long-time friend who would gladly testify to that. That gravestone has been on his grave for nearly two years at this stage. And most importantly, that monument was selected based upon the wishes of our father, who was very proud of his Norwegian heritage, where the stone originates from. That stone happens to originate from the area in Norway of which ancestors lived. Again, we consider what Atlantic Memorial has done to be a desecration of his grave, his wishes and of his memory. That stone was selected based upon his precise wishes, and you have violated his wishes and our memory of him by removing that stone without the proper authorization.
It would appear that Atlantic Memorial has improperly taken advantage of a situation whereby Irene Johnson’s son has recently obtained Guardianship of her and is using his attorney to manipulate Irene to sign forms. It is sad and disturbing that Atlantic Memorial would try to justify the desecration of our father’s grave by acting as if this was approved via her son's attorney. Her son's attorney, R. John Swanson, has no say in this matter, and she is currently under the guardianship of XXXXXX Johnson. Neither of them have authorization to make decisions for the Estate of our father, Milton Johnson, Jr..
Atlantic Memorial is hereby notified that we will be taking action if you do not promptly restore our father’s monument to its original location the Strand Cemetary. You did not have the proper authorization to remove that memorial stone, which had resided over our father’s grave for the past two years. Nor do you have the proper authorization to be in possession of that stone. Your company appears to be taking advantage of a situation whereby our elderly mother, Irene Johnson, has been improperly and unethically manipulated by others.
As it stands, you are unauthorized to be in possession of the gravestone and unauthorized to have removed it from our father’s grave. You never received the authorization from our father’s Estate. You will additionally be held liable for any damage that has been done to that gravestone and to the cemetery lot. We would advise that you restore the monument to the cemetery as it already existed prior to August 1, 2003 as soon as possible. If the monument is not properly restored to how it originally was in the Strand Cemetery (and we have many pictures of the monument), then we regard Atlantic Memorial as liable for whatever costs are necessary for its proper restoration to the Strand Cemetery.
A Photograph of the Stolen Gravestone