When a missing headstone turned up, a crack team of Masons set out to make things right.

By Lillian Galindo Gardiner

How does a headstone vanish for nearly two decades, then suddenly turn up more than a hundred miles away? That’s the mystery that unfolded over the summer for members of Oak Summit Lodge No. 112 in Knights Ferry. The curious case of the hitchhiking headstone began in June, when Marc Santos spotted a strange hunk of stone propped up against a telephone pole on Claribel Road in Stanislaus during his commute home. Intrigued, he pulled over and checked it out. The headstone had been inscribed with a square and compass and the words:

In affectionate remembrance of L.J. HUGHES, M.D. Died June 17, 1881. Aged 31 years.

Santos was intrigued. Having some Masons in the family, he recognized the square and compass. He resolved to find the headstone’s proper home. “I wanted to do the right thing,” he says. “That [headstone] represents a human being—that is a person. It landed on my lap, it was my responsibility.”

Santos reached out to staff at Grand Lodge and was connected to local Masons including District 438 Inspector David Okamoto, Oak Summit Master David Daley, and officer’s coach Tommy Farr, among others. Daley brought the tombstone to the Oak Summit Lodge keeping it safe and polishing the white stone, while others made calls to try to find clues about its provenance. 

Initial web searches turned up little on Dr. Hughes, and calls to local cemeteries proved fruitless. Then a chance call by Santos to the nearby Waterford Historical Museum turned up a newspaper clipping from 1879 indicating that Dr. Hughes had received his medical degree in San Francisco. Santos made a list of major Bay Area cemeteries and eventually phoned up Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland—more than 100 miles west of where he’d found it. When staff confirmed that a Dr. Hughes was buried there, Santos asked, “Can you check if his tombstone is there?” It wasn’t.

So, on July 11, a small group gathered around the resting place of L.J. Hughes to watch as the stone was carefully reattached to its base. Santos brought his family all the way from Stanislaus to witness the occasion. They stood alongside Daley and members of Oak Summit No. 112 as they performed a recommittal service, the last part of the Masonic funeral service.

As for how it ended up so far from home, the mystery lives on—though thankfully with a happy ending. “This is one of my favorite memories of being a Mason,” Daley says.

PHOTO CREDIT: Lillian Gardiner

Permission to reprint original articles in CALIFORNIA FREEMASON is granted to all recognized Masonic publications with credit to the author, photographer, and this publication. Contact the editor at

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