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Southern Utah News Front Page: January 29, 2015
A grave mistake
The gravestone of Ernest Donald Briggs was uncovered during the demolition of the old Chef’s Palace building.
By Dixie Brunner
While the headstone has apparently had a resting place between the old Chef’s Palace on Center Street and the former mortuary building at 30 North 200 West in Kanab for nearly 40 years, it doesn’t diminish the mystery surrounding the man’s name etched into the granite.
Mel Mognett, President of J.D.M. Sand and Rock Inc., Fredonia, was contracted to do demolition on the Chef’s Palace building to make way for the new Kanab United Drug, that is expanding and relocating from across the street. In the course of tearing down and cleaning up the property, he discovered a headstone under a small piece of old carpeting on the back of the property. “I was just curious about the man, and why the stone was there,” said Mognett.
The gray headstone is buried flush with the ground and reads: Ernest Donald Briggs, U.S. Navy World War II, 1930-1976. The man, his origins, family, and cause of death are all mysteries. But perhaps the biggest mystery of all is whether or not the 46 year-old Briggs’ remains are at the site.
“The only way to know for sure is with a shovel,” said Kanab City Police Chief Tom Cram good-naturedly, when asked how you could ascertain whether the monument commemorated actual remains. Cram said he become aware of the stone’s existence several years ago, when Dr. Stephen Burst, who owns the former mortuary building, asked him about it.
Numerous theories abound concerning how Mr. Briggs’ memorial ended up in its current location. The fact that the memorial may actually be on the former mortuary property lends itself to one explanation by mortician Jeff Mosdell of Mosdell Mortuary in Kanab. The building was owned and operated by Spilsbury Mortuary the year of Briggs’ death. (Dennis Mosdell bought the mortuary in 1980.)
“But I doubt if there’s a body there,” ventured Jeff Mosdell. He explained that the federal government provides headstones for Veterans’ plots. If there is incorrect information on the stone when it arrives, the mortuary is told just to discard it, and a corrected version resent. “The stone with mistakes were often just tossed out in back of the mortuary,” said Mosdell, “and occasionally even used as decorative stepping stones in the yard.”
While the stone’s background and location are still a mystery, an actual burial couldn’t happen these days. According to Mosdell, burial is allowed only in an approved cemetery. You cannot ever bury in an incorporated area or subdivision – in other words, never in residential zoning! If you own or want a loved one buried on private land outside these parameters, there are many complicated hoops you must jump through.
Now back to the matter at hand – who and where is the body of Ernest Briggs?
A check of Kanab City records didn’t provide any clues. No one in the area seems to know or be related to him. What ‘is’ known is that Ernest Briggs is not buried in the Kanab City Cemetery!
Briggs’ monument indicated he was a Veteran of the United States Navy during World War II. Thus, a check with the very knowledgeable local American Legion Post 69 Chaplain Lloyd Laycook was in order! While he didn’t have any list indicating that Briggs had been a Veteran here, Laycook kept investigating. “Dixie, it just occurred to me,” said Laycook, “If the marker’s information is accurate, Briggs’ would’ve had to say he was older, because his age would indicate he would have only been 15 when he enlisted.”
A check with the State of Utah Records Department revealed there was never a birth or death certificate for an Ernest Briggs in the state of Utah. The plot thickened. We needed Ernest to give us a sign of some sort to solve the mystery!
On January 15, I took a long shot and e-mailed the Research Center of the Utah State Archives and Utah State History. While I had already looked at Utah records and found nothing, I thought maybe the professional reference staff might know some other information avenues to explore.
The following e-mail was sent to me on January 20:
I have found that Ernest died in Page, Arizona, on December 2, 1976. There are conflicting dates on his birth. The Social Security Death Index lists his birth date as March 14, 1928, but the Department of Veterans Affairs lists it as March 14, 1930. The Social Security Death Index states his Social Security number was issued in Washington state. I was not able to confirm where he was born, or if he lived in Utah at all.
And later in the day:
I checked Find a Grave and there is a Donald Briggs with Ernest’s birth and death date buried in the Page City Cemetery. I wonder if a new headstone was installed and the old one was discarded, but why with a different name? I would contact the cemetery and see what they have to say, they may know what the story is. A very curious find, indeed.
After numerous calls and random wild goose chases, my hunt has come to an end. The grave mystery of Mr. Briggs may just go unsolved. If the public has any information, please call Dixie Brunner at 644-2900.