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Posted June 15, 2009 | Copyright © The Northern Virginia Daily
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Family plot: History lover to restore old cemetery
By Preston Knight -- firstname.lastname@example.org
MT. JACKSON -- Mark Melcher harasses his friend and business partner, Steve Sager, on the phone after Sager had a dentist appointment, telling him he's ugly enough as is without getting all of his teeth pulled.
Off the phone, Melcher talks openly about the time he spends at his favorite hangout, the Mt. Jackson Moose Lodge, and, along with "charming," is fine with being described as an "old drunk." Altogether, these things add up to a man you can certainly bet on appreciating a good story.
And Melcher, 69, walked into one when he bought 130 acres on Senedo Road, near its intersection with Orkney Grade, more than a decade ago. But in addition to getting to relay this story, he's dictating how it ends.
It all involves a man known only as Mr. Jones, another named Erasmus Rinker, who had the small area of Shenandoah County known as Rinkerton named after him, and the small cemetery on Melcher's property where Rinker is buried. It's a "cool" story, he said.
The tale is only timely, though, if it's middle is told first. This is where Melcher is introduced as a character into it anyway. Retired from the Washington research office of Prudential Securities, he moved to Senedo Road with his wife in 2000. The couple had bought the house, at 8563 Senedo Road, and 75 acres a few years prior.
The residence offers a spectacular view of the landscape, which Melcher cherished at first sight. He bought the 130-acre parcel across the street a year later.
"So nobody screws up my view," said Melcher, before adding that he also wanted the land to raise cattle, which he does now with Sager.
On this larger piece of property was an old, deteriorating cemetery near Mill Creek, overgrown by trees and vines and barely accessible. A "mess," Melcher called it.
A history lover, he did not want to see the cemetery ultimately succumb to its own deathbed and felt that, out of respect for those buried there, he should clean it up. The issue became how to do it.
"I didn't know how to do it," Melcher said. "I had friends come out and we drank beer and messed around and decided we needed to hire someone."
The first person was Dave Miller, whose brother owns Lasting Impressions, a town landscaping business.
He cleaned the cemetery, which is surrounded by a stone wall that has remained in excellent shape, and dug up one stone that had been completely buried. That belonged to Erasmus Rinker.
The mention of that name is where, at least for Melcher, the story becomes so interesting, compelling him to spare the cemetery. It is recounted in John Wayland's book, "A History of Shenandoah County, Virginia."
Under attack by Indians in the early 1800s, a family sought refuge in Holman's Fort. One man, cited only as Mr. Jones, became restless in the fort and went to check on his wheat field at Walnut Grove Farm, where Melcher now lives, with a friend. He was shot and killed, Wayland writes.
Jones' son, upon hearing the news from the friend, went to avenge his father's death and searched the farm, but found no body and no Indians. As he returned with his group, an enemy hiding in an overhanging bluff shot him from his white horse, Wayland writes. The next morning his body was found and buried beside Mill Creek.
The young Jones' wife gave birth to a daughter named Anna around this time. She would later marry John Brock who, as an infant at the time of Anna's birth, had been found abandoned in Lacey Spring, Wayland writes.
In 1900, Brock T. White, a descendant of John and Anna Brock, was convinced that skeletal remains found near a ford in Mt. Clifton was that of the younger Jones. He had the body buried in the family graveyard at Walnut Grove, Wayland writes.
And this graveyard is what has Melcher's attention. Walnut Grove, which had been the elder Jones's homestead, was also the long-time residence of Erasmus Rinker, who died in 1883 at age 58. It was also the home of Brock White's wife, Lillian Rinker, the youngest daughter of Erasmus, Wayland writes.
The cemetery has about 10 stones, including several of Erasmus Rinker's daughters, his infant son and his father, Ephraim, who died in 1880 at age 92. There are four small stones with no names and leaves etched into them, likely representing babies with no names or who were stillborn, Melcher said.
The stones are scattered about and mostly crooked -- Erasmus Rinker's is in the best shape after having been buried for so long -- which brings Melcher's story almost to its end. Mike Rinker, a descendant of the family who owns Rinker & Frye Memorials Inc., has agreed to reset the stones at a "reasonable" rate, and plans to bring a team of five men out for a day's work once the ground is dry enough.
"For him to consider to spend some money to work on something that he has no ties to says he's got a good heart," Rinker said of Melcher. "It's not his family. ... I didn't even know it existed. I'm not into my heritage as much as I should be," he says.
Even the manner in which the two men met is a story within the story, which Melcher retold on three occasions to different people the day after it happened. Melcher was out at a Basye restaurant with two men when a third came to the table. The man introduced himself as Mike Rinker, who, although he had been to the cemetery since learning about Melcher's plan, had never met Melcher.
"A coincidence," Rinker said.
Miller will continue to maintain the cemetery after the stones are reset, Melcher said, and it's possible that a minister will some day be brought out to reconsecrate the cemetery, giving the story a fitting final chapter.
"I'm not religious," he said, "but [those buried] were."
Whether that happens, though, has no impact on whether Melcher has a tale to tell. He's already got it, and surely knows it.
"It's a beautiful cemetery," Melcher said.
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