Snapshots: WWI Siberian Front


Private Wotruba at rest beneath Mount Si


The specifics of Private Wotruba’s military career are not known. However, there’s a very good chance he might have been one of those who played a fascinating  (and often overlooked) part in the World War I Eastern Front.

The 62nd infantry served in Europe (reaching France as the armistice was signed). During the latter part of August, 1918, some five thousand men and nearly one hundred officers were transferred from the 8th Division to the American Expeditionary Force in Siberia (AEF).

The AEF had two purposes: rescue 40,000 Czech Legion soldiers attempting to make it through Bolshevik lines to Vladivostok and to protect the military supplies originally sent to assist the now-toppled Czarist monarchy. Another part of the AEF was sent to protect the ports of Murmansk and Archangel in what’s known as the Polar Bear Expedition.

Was Wotruba one of these soldiers? Perhaps, but without knowing his career details we can only guess. Two possible factors do lend credibility. Wotruba is either a Byelorussian or Bohemian name and he may even have spoken some Russian. If this was the case, he would have contributed authenticity to a high risk expedition wandering around the inhospitable Siberian steppes. Again, this is only speculation, but it’s interesting to wonder.

History and movies do their best to portray the miserable existence of Western Front trench warfare but forget about the terrible Eastern Front where soldiers were forced to function in sub-zero temperatures. Below is some video footage on the Czech Legion fighters.

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In honor of Veterans’ Day

Veterans Day

I’ve got a special appreciation for veterans, considering that so many of my family members served and came home safely (although we’re still waiting for one more to come home).

So, since November 11th is Veterans’ Day, BTG will spend the coming week showcasing some of the more interesting veteran stories discovered.

Hope you enjoy them.

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Snapshots: Who Am I?

Woodinville Mead_MD Man

This headstone is located in the Woodinville Mead Memorial Cemetery in Woodinville, WA. If some of you are thinking the name sounds familiar, you’re right. Woodinville is home to Chateau Ste. Michelle and the Red Hook microbrewery.

But long before these all came about, this area of King County was so heavily forested that tree stumps were used as shelters and even temporary housing. Sawmills sprouted at various sites throughout what was to become Washington Territory so that by 1889, the year of statehood, 310 mills from the Columbia to the Canadian line, were cutting 1.06 million board feet of lumber.

Yet loggers had little use for the cleared land. As they moved deeper into the forests, the farmers came along and discovered the rich soil.

Thus, the farming community of Woodinville came about.

The original “cemetery” was located on the Ira and Susan Woodin property. First used for burials in the late 1870s, it was officially deeded to the citizens of Woodinville on April 4, 1898, ten years after this unknown tenant took up residence.

Stones like these are like catnip to cemetery enthusiasts and mystery writers alike. Who was he? Did he play a part in Woodinville’s history or was he just passing through? More importantly, isn’t it interesting how an ostensibly simple community cemetery still manages to retain a fascinating sense of mystery for its visitors?

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Snapshots: Celtic Cross headstone

Abney Park

I don’t know about you but by now, I’m so done with all the post-November 4 election results/talking heads/endless analysis chatter and very ready to get back to doing normal things, like finding interesting headstones.

This fabulous Celtic cross is in the Abney Park cemetery in London. Since most of the headstones there date back to the mid 1800s, I’m guessing there’s a good chance this was carved by hand.

The angel lurking behind it isn’t too shabby, either.

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Rescuing the Poor Farm Cemetery one dowsing at a time

Eagle Scout

Three cheers for Adam Lehechka who’s taken on quite a daunting Eagle Scout project.

Not only will he be pulling weeds, fixing the surrounding fence, painting the entryway sign, and raising $2,500 for a state historical marker at the Poor Farm Cemetery near Grand Island, Nebraska,  he’s also going to locate and mark as many of the unmarked burial sites as possible.

Using copper dowser rods.

The land was originally purchased as a poor farm (where people could work for room and board) in 1879. Eleven years later, a portion of the property was turned into a cemetery with burials occurring there until 1919 in unmarked graves. The property has remained relatively vacant since then.

Hence, the dowsing rods.

Dowsing rods have been used for centuries to find anything from treasure to water and this case,  unmarked burial site.  Here’s how Lehechka finds the sites:

Lehechka holds the copper rods loosely while walking slowly across the cemetery ground. If the rods cross, a grave is found. If the right rod crosses over the left, the body buried there is male. If the left crosses over the right, the body there is female.”

It’s unknown at this time just how many graves are in  the Poor Cemetery, but I do hope Adam sticks with it to the end. This is a huge project that’s certainly worthy of the Eagle Scout badge.

Want to read more/donate to the project? Check out the full article here.

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Odds and Ends: Funeral home matchbooks

Matchbook cover      Match cover    Matchbook cover_2

Thanks to BTG fan, JoAnne Matsumura, for sharing these funeral home matchbooks. Something like this is completely new to me – anyone else ever see something like it?

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Odds and Ends: Tombstone soap


Here’s something to help ease the pain of those infamous, Day After Halloween clean ups.

Yes, believe it or not, there are companies out there that make and sell tombstone soap. You can get various shapes, sizes, and scents, including candy corn, bay rum, and even carrot cake.

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