Port Townsend: Vault stone falls, unviels mystery: Who was child inside?

PORT TOWNSEND — A broken stone has revealed a secret in the burial vault of one of the town’s most famous residents.

In March 1902, Charles Eisenbeis was laid to rest at Laurel Grove Cemetery.

A German emigrant, he arrived in Port Townsend in 1858 and opened a bakery, where he made crackers and ships’ bread.

Twenty years later, he was elected the town’s first mayor and was well on the way to becoming one of town’s most powerful merchants.

During the boom years, Eisenbeis built the Mount Baker Block, the Eisenbeis Building (now undergoing renovation), a hotel, a brickyard, a brewery and a residence, now the Manresa Castle hotel.

When Eisenbeis died at the age of 70, the whole town turned out to see his casket carried down the steps into the subterranean vault and placed next to the coffin of his first wife, who preceded him in death.

Some years later, the door to the vault was sealed and the bodies of Charles and Elisabeth, in her Victorian glass-top coffin, lay hidden from view.

Now, the coffins have been seen again — and the secret that was buried with them.

“The sandstone slab cracked and fell in, damaging the coffins,” said Real Robles.

Robles, whose family owns the local mortuary, said a passerby reported that the vault was open a few weeks ago.

The stone, one of three that covered the 6-by-9-foot vault, appeared to have cracked from weathering, Robles said.

When it broke, the stone fell into the vault, flipping over and breaking the glass “viewing” lid on Elisabeth’s wooden coffin.

It also smashed a child’s coffin on top of Charles’ casket.

But descendants of Eisenbeis, including the current mayor and his sister, have no idea who the child is.

“None of us knew anything about it,” Ann Welch said.

“The child’s casket was a complete surprise.”

Ann and Mayor Mark Welch are the great-grandchildren of Charles Eisenbeis and his second wife, Kate.

A cousin, David Harrah, lives at Kala Point and is also a descendant of the second marriage.

Plaques with the names of their great-aunts and uncles, embedded in the solid cement around the white Victorian cenotaph, indicate where the ashes of Eisenbeis descendants were buried around the perimeter, Robles said.

Other descendants were buried in the upper part of the cemetery.

“Nobody wanted to put the second wife in with the first,” Ann Welch said.

But the discovery of the child’s coffin, which also had a glass lid, adds a new twist to the family plot.

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