Twenty years after burial, a son's search for his mom's resting place hits a snag
As Emmet Vanzandt surveyed the green of Forest View Cemetery, his eyes welled up with tears.
'I think this is about as difficult for me as the first time I was out here,' Vanzandt said. 'This is every little boy's nightmare, when you look for your mom and you can't find her.'
Vanzandt's mother, Nellie Rotan, died in 1989 and was buried at Forest View in Forest Grove. At the time, Vanzandt and his brother followed his mother's wishes to be simply buried without fuss.
But recently, thinking about mortality had spurred him to return with a nice headstone to mark Rotan's grave.
Except when he called Forest View last Monday, Randy Ince, the graveyard manager, said he couldn't find her grave.
The news threw Vanzandt for a loop, returning to the experience 20 years ago of dealing with his mother's death.
'I thought all of my grieving was done 20 years ago,' Vanzandt said.
But Vanzandt and his family wasn't the only one upset. Ince was frantic when he couldn't find the plot the cemetery's records indicated Rotan was buried in.
'I wanted to find it as bad as he did, I don't like this happening,' Ince said. 'I went through every name on the map trying to find it. If it wasn't done right at that time there's not much I can do about it.'
Not much he could do, except look.
And look. And look.
The cemetery has more than 5,000 bodies interred on the grounds, with at least 1,000 veterans, some of whom served in the Civil War.
'I know I've got over 1,000 veterans buried out here because I put the little flags out each year and I'm putting over a 1,000 out now,' Ince said.
When Ince became manager of the non-profit graveyard five years ago, he inherited reams of paperwork detailing the work of employees and volunteer caretakers dating back to the 19th century.
Some of the pages are crumbling, but those records usually allow Ince to find a grave - marked or otherwise - in 45 minutes. But this time, the lot number filed for Rotan in the cemetery's records didn't exist. So he started guessing, hoping that one number had been transposed. Or maybe two.
Vanzandt's brother had the clue that helped solve the mystery: Rotan was buried in a 'flag plot,' of which there are only hundreds, not thousands.
On Monday, Ince and graveyard staff began searching again and after about 45 minutes, they found Rotan's grave, with her marker.
'It's great news,' Vanzandt said. 'Now all I gotta do is go out there and put a good headstone on it so she don't get lost again.'