There’s great pride in becoming a first-time homeowner.
Amy and Javier Buenrostro got right to work making their new house on Townsend Avenue in Riverbank a home after moving in about two weeks ago.
They started by tackling a garden overgrown by weeds beyond the swimming pool and through a trestle layered in grapevines.
But the work quickly came to a halt when Javier Buenrostro stumbled over something quite unsettling – the tombstone of one Oscar R. Peterson, 1900-1984.
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“We noticed there are valleys and peaks in the yard, and I said, ‘Are there graves rising in my yard?’” Amy Buenrostro said.
She called Riverbank Police Services, which dispatched a deputy to their house.
“They actually thought we were joking with them at first because we still had Halloween decorations up,” she said.
The deputy surmised that the grave marker might be stolen, but records for such a crime didn’t go back that far, he told the Buenrostros.
A few days later, the family resumed efforts against the 4-foot-tall weeds when “(Javier) said, ‘You’re not going to believe this, there’s more,’ and I came over … and there was just one after another, he kept pulling them up,” Amy Buenrostros said. “I said, ‘The plot thickens.’”
They found about a dozen granite and marble tombstones for people born as early as 1894 and people who had died as recently as 2000.
Several of them were made for couples, and in two instances, one of the spouses had yet to pass.
They memorialize people who served in the Navy, Air Force, and even an Army veteran who fought in World War II.
“I was very upset finding more, thinking this is a graveyard, and I called (my Realtor) and I said, ‘I think you sold us a cemetery,’” Amy Buenrostros said.
She also called Riverbank Police Services again.
Deputy Darwin Hatfield responded to the home Thursday morning and examined the tombstones. He wanted to determine, first, that none of the tombstones marked actual graves and, second, that they were not stolen from a cemetery.
Before the Buenrostros had started pulling them up from the weeds, all of the tombstones had been lying face down and appeared to have been arranged in such a way to serve as a walking path around a grouping of raised garden beds.
Hatfield noticed several misspellings, such as “Appil” instead of “April” for the birth month of Rosario Arias. It’s also more likely “Ressie” Vance was Bessie Vance.
The deputy contacted the previous homeowner and confirmed that all of the gravestones contained typos or other imperfections. The homeowner, Hatfield said, had purchased them from Turlock Marble and Granite Works, which has since closed.
“He worked for a company that did service work at the business,” Hatfield said. “He bought them at a discounted price and used them as steppingstones.”
The Buenrostros were relieved.
“My family is pretty excited and my mom already said she’d take them,” Amy Buenrostros said. But first, “I am going to try to contact the families and see if the families want them back for some sentimental reason, and if not, then I am really not sure.”