Originally published in the Alexandria Echo Press.
On Sept. 2, Gary Wilson originally from Kasson, Minnesota, who now resides in California, provided his long-lost grandfather, a Spanish-American War veteran, with a headstone at Kinkead Cemetery after resting for nearly 100 years with only a number to mark him.
Fredrick A. Wilson spent nearly 100 years in Kinkead cemetery without a headstone. Until his long-lost grandson, Gary Wilson provided his estranged grandfather’s final resting place with a stone on Thursday, Sept. 2.
"We never talked about him. Not my dad or my grandmother. All I knew is that he and my grandmother divorced when my father was just a kid," said Gary Wilson.
Gary Wilson never knew his grandfather. He assumed he served in the Spanish-American War after Gary and his brother found a cigarette case from the war in his mother's belongings after she died. And Gary knew his father was "kidnapped" by his grandfather after an ugly divorce. Gary found out from an article about the event that his father kept in his pocket until his death from a car accident in the 70s. He said his father wasn't actually kidnapped, just taken overnight and his grandmother feared the worst and called the cops. Fredrick spent one night in jail.
When Gary was 70-years-old, he received a gift from his children after expressing interest in knowing more about his family history. They gifted him a notebook of compiled research done by a family friend, which gave him information on his grandfather's lineage and his place of birth, someplace in Ohio, but not much more. Gary's curiosity got the better of him and he decided to dig deeper into the information. He followed clues like a sleuth on a mission after discovering veteran pension form his grandmother filed in 1933, after Fredricks death, which allocated $40 a month. Then, on Gary's 82nd birthday, his family gifted him a membership to Ancestry.com, which told him where his grandfather was buried, in Kinkead Cemetery in Alexandria. Gary then contacted the Douglas County Historical Society leading him to an article from the Alexandria Citizen on Dec. 13, 1928.
The article is titled, “Transient Dies here on Sunday night." and leads with, "Fred A Wilson, transient, said to be a manufacturer and salesman for the As-Te-De remedies. Died at the Frances Hotel in this City, Sunday, at about midnight.”
The article continued saying Fredrick was in Alexandria for two weeks and fell ill during the last week. A physician visited him in his rooming-house about 10 p.m. on Sunday, and shortly before midnight, he passed away after becoming “violently” ill. Fredrick’s remains were taken to Carlson Funeral home, where the coroner determined “alcoholism to be the cause of death.” A funeral was held the following Wednesday put on by the local American Legion post in honor of his veteran status. The article said, "no relatives were present at his funeral." Without a birth certificate, the coroner assumed Fred to be around 45-years-old at the time of his death.
Among Fredricks, possessions were letters he had received, several of which came from his 14-year-old daughter Orene. Both she and her brother Arlo lived in Oakes, North Dakota, and had frequently stayed in contact with their father. On the night of his death, he had received a letter from Orene informing him that his ex-wife, the mother of his children, had remarried the week prior.
Gary speculates the cause of the divorce was the death of his grandparents' youngest child, who died from tuberculosis of the spine at the age of 6-years-old. "Divorce wasn't common back then as it is now," said Gary, "The strain of a child dying sometimes does that."
After the divorce, Fredrick hit the road to sell his hair product to barbershops across Minnesota.
Gary surmises that his grandfather still loved his ex-wife and children, especially since he stayed in contact with his kids, and the news of his ex-wife re-marrying contributed to his death. "It was probably really hard on him. I am sure he felt whatever hope was left was now gone," said Gary, "He must have still loved her."
The Douglas County Historical Society put Gary in contact with Deb Hvezda from Kinkead Cemetery and Jacob Turner from the Douglas County Veterans Services. They helped locate his grandfather's gravesite. He discovered that Fredrick's resting place was marked only by numbers. Fred's veteran status of the Spanish-American War was confirmed through verified enlistment and pension papers. The papers also indicated he was born in 1877. Fred was 51 when he passed.
"Nobody could go back and see a tombstone and know what he did for this country. Now he has a marker that recognizes his contributions. He was a patriot," said Gary, "Now he can finally get the recognition he deserves."
With the help from the Veterans Services, Gary finally provided Fredrick with a headstone to be remembered and have a place where his family can finally come and visit him.
Seeing Fred Wilson’s family gathered around his new headstone reminds all of us at the Douglas County Historical Society that our work does have an important impact on people’s lives," remarked Brittany Johnson, director of the Douglas County Historical Society, "For stories with sudden and tragic ends, it can be difficult to find a positive outcome. Fred Wilson’s story didn’t end with his sudden death in Alexandria, but with his family looking for him and working to ensure he was memorialized."
Gary isn't done yet. He wants to keep digging to uncover more information about his family's history.
"It's fun. Like trying to solve a mystery," Gary exclaimed.
He hopes to find an artifact from his grandfather's hair tonic product. As-Te-De Remedies, to share with his grandson, Chase Wilson. Chase unknowingly inherited the legacy of his great-great-grandfather by starting his own hair product company, Byrd Hairdo Products. Chase's hair product can be found online at byrdhair.com and multiple locations across the country like CVS, Target, Costco, and soon, Wal-Mart.
Gary's family went to Kinkead Cemetery on Thursday, Sept. 2, shortly after the headstone was in place, and gave their respects. Fredrick, who had a funeral service with no family in attendance, finally reunited with his family and received a proper burial marker. The family celebrated Fredrick's life at The Depot, the old train station originally landing Fredrick in Alexandria.
"I would like him to know that his children always cared for him," said Gary.
Corrections were made to clarify the misprint on the headstone. The birthdate should be Feb. 12, 1877. Not 1887.