Engraving Error Put Date on Wrong Gravestone in Sunapee

  • Richard James Morse, of Sunapee, looks over the granite arch he had installed last summer marking the graves of his wife and daughter in a family ploy at Eastman Cemetery in Sunapee, N.H., Thursday, May 31, 2018. Last week, Morse discovered that a death date had been inscribed below his name on the stone. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • While visiting the graves of his wife and daughter in Sunapee's Eastman Cemetery last week Richard James Morse, of Sunapee, discovered a death date inscribed under his own name. Morse is trying to find out who did the inscription, a mistake he says can only be corrected by replacing the whole stone for which he originally paid $3,800. Morse was photographed at his Sunapee, N.H., home. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • The gravsestone of James Phelan Lyons sits several rows away from the Morse family plot in Eastman Cemetery in Sunapee, N.H., Thursday, May 31, 2018. Richard James Morse thinks that Lyons' death date of of August 31, 2016, was mistakenly carved into his own stone. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, June 01, 2018

Sunapee — When Richard James Morse kneeled down to plant flowers in front of his family headstone in Eastman Cemetery last week, he expected the memorial to look the same as it did the last time he visited.

The granite arch still sat over a large rose quartz stone, the birth and death dates of his wife and daughter etched into it. But something definitely was different.

It took him less than a second to realize that someone had professionally engraved a death date — Aug. 31, 2016 — next to his name. Morse, a longtime resident of Sunapee, still is very much alive.

“I said, ‘What in the …,” the 83-year-old recalled on Thursday as he bent down and placed one hand on the 4-foot-wide and 2½-foot-tall stone he had custom built through Tribute Artistry Monuments in Ascutney. “I was pretty damned upset.”

And he still is devastated that the custom piece he had installed last summer to the tune of $3,800 will now either need to be replaced, or the date will need to be buffed out, a fix that is less than acceptable to him and will be a constant reminder of the mistake, he said.

Since last Thursday, he has been trying to crack the case of who is responsible. He and others, including Sunapee Cemetery Commissioner Jeffrey Trow, say they have an idea of who did it, but they declined to reveal that person’s name at this time.

Morse said that person denies having engraved the stone.

Morse, who has had some health problems, said by his calculations, the mistake happened within the past year.

Sunapee Police Chief David Cahill said his department is investigating. An officer has inquired with area companies that are known to etch dates in stones in that cemetery, and representatives at those businesses also have denied any involvement in the mishap.

“It appears that probably there was a mistake made,” Cahill said. “Mistakes happen. … I’d imagine they would make it right.”

Cahill thinks there is a paper trail of the job somewhere, but without more information, the case could be a hard one to solve.

Tribute Artistry Monuments Owner Aaron Fitzherbert said he has been designing, carving, etching and lettering memorial pieces for decades. Only in news articles from far away states has he heard of anything like this happening.

“It’s a really hard thing to do,” said Fitzherbert, who built and installed Morse’s “one-of-a-kind” stone and who does etching in the quiet, rural cemetery on North Road in Sunapee.

Someone like Fitzherbert typically would get a work order from a family or a funeral home to have the dates etched, and that work order would contain several pieces of information that would lead the artist to the correct grave.

When Fitzherbert found out about the situation, he and his wife met Morse on Memorial Day and went to the cemetery, and while there, looked to see if they could find any clues about what might have gone wrong.

About 10 rows behind Morse’s family plot sat a gravestone for the Lyons family. A man named James Phelan Lyons had the same death date etched next to his name as Morse: Aug. 31, 2016. The only real link: the name James, the men said.

“The font (of Morse’s death date) matches the font that was put on the stone 10 rows down,” Fitzherbert said. “Someone made a huge blunder.”

The spacing of Morse’s “death date” doesn’t match the spacing of his wife’s name, Lynda Aline, and that of his daughter, Melissa Lynn, and the letters that were used also aren’t an exact match to those of his loved ones, he said.

Morse said he hasn’t reached out to the Lyons family about the situation because he doesn’t want to upset them.

Attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

James Lyons, who went by Jim, died at age 88 on Aug. 31, 2016, at his home in Sunapee, according to his obituary. He graduated from Dartmouth College, Thayer School of Engineering and Harvard Business School.

Morse’s only hope is that someone comes forward, admits their mistake and asks, “What can we do?”

“As far as I am concerned, it is a hit and run,” said Morse, a retired builder and handyman who relies on Social Security.

The only bit of humor Morse has found in this came from Richard Gross, who meticulously maintains Sunapee’s cemeteries.

“He says, ‘You know, I’ve been to a lot of funerals,” Morse recalled. “ ‘And you are the best damn looking corpse I’ve ever seen.’ ”

Cahill asked that anyone with information about the situation call Sunapee police at 603-763-5555.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.


Richard James Morse was married to the late Lynda Aline Morse, and their daughter Melissa Lynn died in 1975. An earlier version of this story transposed their names.