Last week, Sylvia Segovia and I were walking around Hidalgo Panteon looking for the graves of several people. If you’ve never visited this lovely little cemetery, you’re in for a real cultural treat.
You will find rows and rows of concrete crosses and tombstones of many designs. Most are whimsically customized with multicolored tiles, marbles and seashells. Traces of paint, generally white, remain on many ancient monuments. Old photos of the cemetery reveal that at one point nearly all of the markers glowed white. The names of the inhabitants were inscribed in the wet concrete and sometimes revealed not only names and dates, but also birthplaces and relationships.
Color abounds in this cemetery and there is a sense of celebration of life rather than grief of death. The names will be familiar to you because many of these names from the early 1900s are still present in today’s population.
The Hidalgo Panteon land was obtained through the hard work of Francisco Estevez in 1918. Estevez was and still is well known for his extreme efforts, in the early 1900s, to improve working conditions and improve the lives of the people Hispanic from New Braunfels. . Francisco Estevez has also contributed to preserving Mexican traditions and customs by participating in local organizations: the Cuahatemoc Association, the Hidalgo Lodge and the Comision Honorifica.
While walking and reading headstones, I stopped to take a picture and heard Sylvia scream, “Oh my God! There is a German here! Sure enough, leaning haphazardly against the fence that separates Hidalgo Panteon from Perpetuo Secorro (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) is a crystalized white limestone stone with “Hier ruht Theodore Klaus, 1871-1885”.
Well, that’s confusing. First, there is the date of 1885. The land of Hidalgo Panteon was not acquired until 1918. There are many tombstones with death dates in 1919. Second, the material of the stone tombstone is all wrong. Where is the concrete that still dominates the tombs of this cemetery today? It comes out as what it is, a German tombstone.
Back at the Sophienburg, we plunged “head first” into this mystery of the “tombstone”. I went looking for family information while Sylvia logged into Find-a-grave online. Theodore was listed as being buried at Hidalgo Panteon AND San Antonio Confederate Cemetery! But wait…the “plot” thickens.
I looked through the German Neu Braunfelser Zeitung and found a very descriptive obituary for Theodore Klaus:
Last Sunday afternoon between 3 and 4 o’clock, Theo Klauss, the son of Wilhelm Klauss, the well-known and popular postmaster of Danville, committed suicide by accident. Theodore was out hunting and was about to step over a stone fence, gun in hand, when the shot rang out and he was shot in the chest. The rifle barrel was so close to his body when the shot was fired that his clothes were burned. The dear boy lived about an hour longer. Interment took place Monday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. in New Braunfels Cemetery with many in attendance. The local Catholic parish priest held the funeral according to the rites of the Catholic Church. “Rest in peace, poor boy. We share our deep sympathy for the great pain of those left behind.
Not only is this a seriously tragic story about the death of a 14 year old, but did you notice where Theodore was buried? New Braunfels Cemetery across town! Hush. Now he is in three cemeteries.
I picked up the sextons’ registers for the burials at the New Brunswick Cemetery (by the way, it’s the oldest public cemetery in town). Theodore was listed as burial #569 in 1885. I also found listings for a baby Klaus in 1876, a sister in 1902, and a father in 1902. Time to take a trip to this cemetery.
I found ONLY ONE tombstone of Klaus. It belongs to Jacob Klaus (1830-1872) who was Théodore’s uncle. What happened to the others? A little more disconcerting is that Jacob’s tombstone has the exact same design and size as that of my poor friend Theodore. I also noticed that the stone next to Uncle Jacob’s had the same design and size but was for another family in the Danville area; they were neighbors in life and in death.
OK. I had to step back and rethink this mystery from a different angle. I contacted the San Antonio Confederate Cemetery. This cemetery was first used in 1855, but was purchased by Confederate veterans in 1885 and renamed The Confederate Cemetery. It was to be used by Civil War veterans, their dependents, and their subsequent descendants. It also contains World War I and World War II veterans. Unfortunately, there are no ancient written records for the cemetery. But it was not a complete “dead end”. I have been informed that near Theodore lie the remains of the father (plus his wife) and sister who disappeared from New Braunfels Cemetery, probably at the same time as Theodore.
For now, I can only assume that sometime after 1902, the Klaus family (some of whom lived in San Antonio) had to rebury Theodore, dad, and sister in the Confederate Cemetery. I have someone looking in government records to see if Theodore’s father, Wilhelm, was in the Civil War. But who knows?
My best guess is that the original Klaus family headstones, including Theodore’s, were discarded after the remains were moved. More recent style monuments adorn the tombs of San Antonio. Like German Americans, Mexican Americans don’t like to see good stuff wasted, so I wonder if someone just salvaged abandoned headstones for reuse. With that in mind, I made another trip to Hidalgo Panteon to take another look and Theodore’s tombstone praying that I find the reuse remains on the reverse—perhaps some writing added?
No. I guess Theodore Klaus’ tombstone’s travels through the city will remain a mystery.
Sources: https://www.findagrave.com/; https://www.ccasatx.org/; the Sophienburg Museum Newspaper Collection and Family History Collection, as well as research material for Hidalgo Panteon and New Braunfels Cemetery.