THE TOMBSTONE HOAX OF 1957

By William Urban

Wyatt Earp was born in Monmouth on March 19, 1848. Since 1956 several state agencies have attempted to determine where, but the investigators have uniformly concluded that the evidence for any one site is not persuasive. Why? That answer may be connected to a suspicious event that took place a year after the Prime Beef Festival Committee sought to attract publicity by staging the first search for his authentic birthplace. That was the elaborate tombstone hoax of 1957.

There had been newspaper stories about the theft of the famed lawmanís tombstone. Bizarre stuff, but most likely only a teenage prank. Kids steal more for the excitement than for money. Certainly there didnít seem to be any money in stolen cemetery markers, even tombstones bearing the name of a famous lawman, though some collectors are pretty odd people! Sam Harrison of our local Chamber of Commerce warned darkly that Tombstone people wanted the marker. How appropriate: Wyatt Earpís tombstone going to Tombstone.

As the newspaper story had it, an unknown youth who did not want to be identified had found the stone at Lake Warren. It was brought to town and displayed in the foremost restaurant of the time, Hedrickís, and supposedly insured for $10,000 by the Prime Beef Festival Committee

Shortly afterward Gerald Swisher of Davenport discovered it in the back seat of his car after returning from an evening visit to Monmouth. He returned the stone to Monmouth, after which a stranger appeared, identified himself as a San Francisco detective and took the stone away.

Swisher was the regional stringer for the Associated Press. This indicates that the fake tombstone was clearly a publicity stunt. This story has been a mystery long enough now. That youth, if there ever was a youth, would have been under fifteen in 1957, so heíd be about sixty-five now. Maybe itís time to come forth and confess. The tombstone probably still exists, too.

Just as the birthplace marker was placed in the city park by the 1956 Committee, we could surely find an appropriate place for the fake tombstone.

For more on this: https://department.monm.edu/history/urban/wyatt_earp/wyatt_earp_tombstone_hoax.htm

Daily Review Atlas (March 16, 2006), 4.