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Finding Beaver Dam’s forgotten soldier: Headstone raises questions about fate of Spanish American War veteran

October 5, 2018

Charles Hammer of Beaver Dam survived the Spanish-American War, but nobody seems to know what happened to him after that.

His name only came to light a little more than a year ago when Kirsh Foundry demolished a house at the corner of South Center and Rowell streets. A headstone was discovered under the front porch, concealed under a 4-by-4-foot slab of cement.

The raised letters read, “Sergt. Chas. Hammer, Co. K, 2 Wis. Inf., Sp. Am. War.” There are no birth or death dates or any other information, just scrapes on the back of the stone and a large chip where demolition equipment slightly damaged it. In fact, the darkened white sandstone slab is in remarkable state of preservation. Apart from a chip off the top and a couple of damaged letters, it is in far better shape than many other stones in the Beaver Dam city cemetery, where it has been moved.

“We’re just amazed by how, in those days, they were able to cut this by hand,” said Del Yaroch, an American Legion member who was one of the Veterans Memorial Park Committee members attending the reveal on Tuesday.

No skeletal remains were found, and little else could be discovered about the sergeant who was a member of Company K in Beaver Dam and served in the Wisconsin Second Infantry.

“Kirsh Foundry notified us that they had the stone and we decided to bring it to City Cemetery and plant it here,” said Paul Lauth, a Veterans of Foreign Wars member who also serves on the commitee. “We got permission from the city.”

“We have no idea where his body might be, but he has a place here if they ever find his remains,” Yaroch said.

The stone indicates that he served in the Spanish-American War. The conflict lasted 10 weeks in 1898, with the United States backing Cuba’s struggle to gain independence from Spain. The war ended with the Treaty of Paris, in which Spain relinquished sovereignty over Cuba and ceded ownership of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine islands to the U.S. for $20 million.

What happened to Hammer after the war is unknown, although the headstone indicates that he must have died some time thereafter. The location of his body is unknown.

“We checked with the Veterans Administration, and with Charlie Hammer (a local resident and possible relative), and nobody knows who he is,” Yaroch said. “All the VA knows is that he served in the Spanish-American War. He’s a veteran, but they have no record of his death. So we took it upon ourselves to do something with the stone.”

The stone is installed in a way to ensure it stays upright.

“It’s down 18 inches sitting on some gravel for drainage,” Yaroch said. “There’s a lot of concrete around the base so it won’t tip over.”

He estimates that the slab weighs 200 to 300 pounds or more.

“It’s not a light stone, that’s for sure,” Lauth said.

A holder designated for the Spanish-American War ensures that a flag will be placed there for Memorial Day — a tradition maintained by area veterans to honor their deceased brothers in arms.

“At least this way, people can see the stone and remember that this man was a part of Beaver Dam at one time,” said Veterans Memorial Park Committee and VFW member Frank Kiekhaefer.

“We don’t know when he died, or where he died, or how that stone got under the front porch,” Lauth said.

“Or if he died,” Yaroch said, joking about a man who, if he were still alive today, would be at least 120 years old.

“I think if he was walking around town, somebody would have noticed,” Lauth said.

The mystery headstone is now firmly in place and is no longer covered by cement and a porch that may have been there for more than a century.

“This way, at least he’s honored,” said David Noe of the Marine Corps League, another Veterans Memorial Park Committee member. “He’ll get a flag like all the other veterans and we’ll continue to seek out any information we can find to solve this mystery.”

Those who might know anything about Hammer are asked to contact Lauth at 920-885-5141 or 210-763-3577.

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