Unraveling the mystery behind the WWI headstone found in Lakewood

CLEVELAND -- A local historian is helping unravel the mystery surrounding the discovery of an old gravestone in the backyard of a home in Lakewood.

After watching Fox 8’s story about the discarded headstone, the archivist for the Cleveland Grays Armory began research on the background of the Cleveland man whose name is on the granite monument.

Bill Stark says he learned that Charles Joseph Starry served in the U.S. Army in World War I from 1917 to 1919, even though he was disabled by a leg injury.

“Charlie,” as he was known, was one of eight children born to immigrant parents who lived on West 54th Street. When Charlie came home from the war, he worked as, among other things, a pool room manager, until his death in 1958.

Some 60 years later, employees of a landscaping company were building a patio at a home in Lakewood, when they discovered the military gravestone of Charles J. Starry in a pile of old rubble.

Out of respect for Private Starry's service to his country, the homeowner launched a campaign to find out how and why the tombstone was discarded.

Intrigued by the mystery, Bill Stark began online research that traced Charles' final resting place to Cleveland’s West Park Cemetery.

According to his gravestone, Charles’ last name is actually spelled “Stary,” and he is buried next to his brother Joseph.

Stark said online records indicate that Stary's sister, Anna Spoerke, initially ordered a military headstone, but two months later, after the stone had been made with Stary’s last name spelled incorrectly as Starry, the order was "suspended."

Bill Stark told Fox 8, "Perhaps the family decided that they didn't want it and wanted to put in a civilian gravestone for Charles and his brother and so the military headstone, the government headstone, couldn't be displayed on the grave and somehow it got away from the cemetery."

Although we may never know how the military gravestone ended up in Lakewood, Stark said the stone remains the property of the United States Government, and according to the guidelines of the Veterans Administration, the discarded grave marker should have been destroyed.

Stark, who placed a small American flag on the grave on Friday, said the beauty of unraveling the mystery behind Charles Stary's two gravestones is that a long forgotten soldier is now being remembered for his service to his country.

Continuing coverage, here.