Soldier's grave is lost no more

Special to the Baltimore Sun

In the end, a quaint watercolor painting of a young town full of promise yielded the final key to unlocking a mystery dating back more than 130 years.

The artwork, depicting the proposed community of Sanborn as part of a decades-old real estate ad, is an aerial perspective of existing homes and never-developed lots off Ryan Avenue in Hanover, just east of Elkridge.

But one detail in the landscape turned the souvenir into a pseudo-treasure map for the community. The 19th-century Anderson Chapel on Ryan Avenue, claimed by the ravages of time and neglect 40 years ago, faced the B&O Railroad tracks.

Using the chapel's orientation as a guide, an amateur archaeologist and a team of groundskeepers from nearby Meadowridge Memorial Park joined forces to zero in on the burial vault of a long-lost Civil War Union soldier, whose final resting place was said to be at the foot of the church's steps.

On Memorial Day, two years of dedicated sleuthing and planning by community members will culminate in the dedication of the gravesite of Lt. Col. Ephraim Foster Anderson with a public ceremony.

"It was thrilling to find the remains of someone who was forgotten by time," said Val McGuire, second vice president of the Greater Elkridge Community Association.

"The expectation is there and your adrenaline is pumping, and then to actually find the grave was just euphoria, really," she said, recounting the suspense that swirled around the discovery March 29, 2008.

Eight-foot-long steel probes used by cemeteries in burial placement located loose soil below the earth and led the workers to the brick-and-flagstone burial vault, she said.

All that remains of the church today is the rock-lined perimeter of its below-ground stone foundation, its earth-filled interior now blanketed with periwinkle vines and poison oak. And not much is left of Anderson's coffin, which had been desecrated, she said.

The painting that played a role in the turn of events is owned by Gail Harbaugh, a member of the Lang family that lived on nearby Winters Lane in the 1940s and 1950s. She and her husband Jerry Harbaugh built their home in the area in 1960, living on Anderson Avenue for about 10 years.

The exhilaration of finally unearthing Anderson's grave has proved contagious, she said.

Harbaugh, who recalled being "scared to death" that someone's body was buried near the church where she played with neighborhood kids, teamed up with the Howard County Historical Society to have the landscape reproduced on note cards.

The colonel might have played an even larger role in Howard County history had his life not been cut short, McGuire said.

Anderson, who died of tuberculosis in 1877 at the age of 38, not only distinguished himself in war time, but had been elected to the Maryland House of Delegates from Washington County and was a customs appraiser to the Port of Baltimore, McGuire said.

The lieutenance colonel named his 31-acre tract at the railroad tracks Anderson, established a post office, and had grand plans for a town to surround his chapel, she said. But he never married and died young, so residents will never know how the community, which was later renamed Hanover, may have otherwise evolved.

The quest to find the colonel's grave was initiated by some of Anderson's descendants with a well-placed call in 2007 to Joetta Cramm, county historian and author. Cramm's extensive research played a large role in locating the burial vault, said McGuire, who assisted her.

McGuire took up Cramm's charge by involving the GECA, and was talking about the project to an audience that happened to include Mike Bennett, an Elkridge resident and general manager of the Gary L. Kaufman Funeral Home at Meadowridge. His interest was piqued and he volunteered his crew's services, he said.

"We are all about memorializing people, and the only thing left on this earth after we leave it is a commemoration of who we were and what we accomplished," said Bennett, who is donating a 3-foot-by-6-foot bronze ledger cast with highlights of Anderson's life.

His crew was slated to install the marker May 22 on a granite slab that covers the entire grave.

"It's always nice to preserve our history," he said, adding that the colonel's coffin could just as easily been moved to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. He said he's glad the remains of the soldier and the chapel he built will stay together in the town Anderson once envisioned.

"It's really special when a community comes together not just out of obligation, but because of something they feel in their hearts," Bennett said.

Aside from traditional elements at Monday's ceremony - presentation of colors, flag-folding ceremony and county proclamation - Elkridge resident Monica Wilson will sing the national anthem a cappella and Mary Snyder Anderson, a descendant of the colonel's, will sing "America the Beautiful."

Fred Dorsey, vice president of Preservation Howard County, will quote from Anderson's 1870 address at Antietam National Cemetery in Sharpsburg, Md., and discuss the soldier's contributions.

And 7-year-old Emily Dagirmanjian, who lives across the street from the gravesite and has taken unofficial ownership of the woods there, will lead the gathering in the Pledge of Allegiance, accompanied by Andrew Blair, president of the neighboring community of Hanover's Grant.

Emily will also use the occasion to sell lemonade and soda, she said.

"There will be flags on everyone's lawns and balloons at the entrance to the community," said McGuire. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime situation and the community has really pulled together for it."

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