UPDATE: Tyler city officials say historical maps show that a marble company was once located at the site where the parking garage is being built. Therefore, it is very possible that the gravestone found this morning was made by the company but never moved to a grave site. Watch both videos embedded in this story page for the full story.
BY CASEY MURPHY, email@example.com
Self proclaimed history buff and relic hunter Rick Garrett discovered something special in Tyler today.
Rodney Kinard, with L&L Asphalt, called him while digging with a track hoe during work on the new parking garage at Elm Street and Broadway Avenue and said he found something Garrett needed to see.
The foreman had unearthed a baby’s tombstone from 1883.
The stone reads William T. Swinney, born Aug. 9, 1883 and died Oct. 30, 1883. He was the son of C.T. and J.E. Swinney.
Garrett, 57, of Tyler, knew he had to grab the tombstone and find the right people to take it and preserve it. He was dusting it gently this morning while it lay in the back of his truck.
“Is that not the coolest thing, y’all?” he asked. “This hasn’t seen daylight in years.”
He said today’s find was special.
“It’s a baby’s tombstone,” he said. “I don’t know what to do with it. It needs to be handled in a special way.”
He said they have found no other signs of any headstones or bones on the job site, just a few old bottles.
“We’re always careful when we excavate,” he said, adding that they can’t slow down too much because they have to make a certain amount of progress each day.
He said he wouldn’t give the tombstone to just anyone. He wants to find out what the proper, respectful thing to do with it is.
“In my opinion, it needs to be preserved,” Garrett said. “It doesn’t need to be cast aside … It needs some tender loving care.”
Garrett said the Swinneys were some of the founding fathers of East Texas and he hopes someone can trace the baby back to their family and put the headstone with their family plot.
“It’s a baby’s tombstone,” he said. “It means a lot.”
Garrett grew up in Tyler and started Rainbow Sealcoat, an asphalt maintenance firm, in 1982. He merged his company with L&L Asphalt a few years ago.
“I’m a little bit of a history buff,” he said.
Garrett said he is a history student and enjoys learning about Tyler and Smith County. Through the years, he has found a cache of Civil War relics, such as mini balls, buttons, cannon shot and coins.
About 10 years ago, Garrett and a friend found 22 Tyler railroad baggage claim checks under the Broadway underpass, which he said are rare.