Hood County News (Tuesday, November 26, 2002)


Big man makes grave contribution

He makes his way about Hood County's smaller cemeteries with a blue-and-white golf umbrella, a clipboard, a global positioning doodad, a well-traveled digital camera and an old milk crate full of "tombstone tools." On a good day, Frank Saffarrans working alone can cover maybe a third or fourth of one of the county's tiny graveyards. The work can be tedious. At each marker Frank must first make sure the marker will photograph, chopping away foliage, scrubbing off lichens or using a thick, acid-free, cream-like substance and a discount-store squeegee to make the name, date or epitaph stand out.

Then, Frank, who has back and vision problems and other ailments that give him the devil and slow his quest, must kneel and crouch to get the camera at the right angle.

A military veteran and defense industry retiree who lives at Arlington but spends much of his quality time at a Mambrino farm, Frank maintains or helps maintain websites including that of the Hood County Genealogical Society.

He hopes that someday soon pictures of every headstone in Hood County will be accessible online, along with whatever biographical data is available on the person. His real fervor, though, is for the cornucopia of small and remote graveyards the county affords. As things are, those are the ones small enough for him to photograph himself.

On a recent splendid fall Tuesday, crimson and gold abound and Frank's longtime friend Bill Smith and I are along. Bill and I will assist. We will visit the well-known Mitchell Bend Cemetery and the little one at Elm Flat, the latter first.

Best of all, there will be short periods all morning when we discard the task at hand for a few minutes, and Frank, a hulking fellow of 69 (typo should be 79) who has to sit from time to time, talks.

At Elm Flat, which like Mitchell Bend is on a peninsular outcropping, Frank growls that the latitude-longitude readings his doodad is spitting out are not to his satisfaction. He points out the better known graves but we spend more time on the lesser-known ones.

At Mitchell Bend there are quite a few more stones to photograph than in Elm Flat, meaning we are there for almost three hours. Aside from the notable graves of the two N. Coony Mitchells -- the son killed by a Hood County jail guard in 1875 and the father "hung in Granbury" a year later, as the marker says, one thing I'll remember is a bullet hole some scofflaw put in the historical marker.

Frank Saffarrans is, as might be expected, a connoisseur of interesting tombstone epitaphs. One of his favorites, it turns out, is that of his great-great-great-great-grandpa, Revolutionary War Col. Ezekiel Polk of Hardeman County, Tenn., who was born 1747, died 1824 and had 11 children by three wives.

The highly opinionated epitaph, printed and punctuated as written:

Here lies the bones of Old E. P.

One instance of mortality;

Pennsylvania born, Carolina bred.

In Tennessee died upon his bed.

His youthful days he spent in pleasure.

His later days in gathering treasure.

From superstition lived quite free,

And practiced strict morality.

To holy cheats was never willing

To give one solitary shilling.

He can foresee and for foreseeing

He equals most men in being.

That Church and State will join their pow'r,

And mis'ry on this country show'r;

And Methodist with their camp bawling,

Will be the cause of this down falling.

An era not destined to see.

It waits for poor posterity.

First fruits and tithes are odious things,

And so are Bishops, Priests and Kings.