Solving the mystery of Frenchtown’s long-forgotten
tombstone in the woods. by Michael Aaron Rockland
Frenchtown is one of my favorite New Jersey towns. I often meet a friend there for lunch, but first
we take a short hike south along the
crushed-rock trail that follows the Dela-
ware River along an old railroad bed.
My friend and I had taken that walk
half a dozen times before spotting a
large, ornately carved, granite tombstone some 20 feet off the trail. On the
other occasions, the stone had likely
been shielded by foliage. Now it was
winter. The tombstone read:
JONATHAN R. KUGLER
DEC. 1, 1824
DIED NOV. 12, 1891
BORN NOV. 14, 1827
DIED SEPT. 17, 1910
What was a lone tombstone doing
in the woods? And why would the
Kuglers have chosen to be buried
alongside the railroad, especially since
the historic Frenchtown cemetery is
less than 100 yards away?
I contacted the town librarian seeking information. “I’ve lived in Frenchtown my whole life and never seen that
stone,” said the librarian. The folks at
Town Hall suggested I speak with Gerry
Case, superintendent of the Frenchtown cemetery for 43 years.
I met Case at the stone some days
later. “There’s something I’d like to
show you in the cemetery,” he said.
Walking away from the river up a slight
rise, we passed a house and a huge,
barn-like structure dating to Civil War
times. The barn’s most recent occupant
was a memorial stone-carving business.
“That tombstone may have been carved
in this building,” Case said.
At the cemetery, the mystery deepened. Case led me to a more contempo-rary-looking stone (“1940s-style,” he
declared). It was carved with the same
information about the Kuglers. “I think
they are buried here,” he said.
“But who would have put up the
stone in the 1940s, long after they
died?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” he replied.
“And who’s buried under the other
“Perhaps nobody,” said Case.
“Then what is that stone for?”
“Maybe the old stone was ordered
and never paid for, and whoever
erected this cemetery stone didn’t
know about the beautiful old stone
that had been discarded by the fac-
tory,” Case suggested. “Maybe,” he
added, “the folks who live in the house
by the barn know something.”
The owner of that house, Jeanne
Herb, took me through the ancient
barn, which was full of dust, cobwebs
and abandoned equipment, including
a stone grinder. She told me that her
ex-husband, Jeff Scott, had found the
tombstone behind the building.
I contacted Scott. “When we bought
Most of the mystery was now solved.
the house in 1993, the backyard was
covered with brush,” he said. “I was
clearing the area behind the barn when
we found that old tombstone. It was
lying on its side in four sections—the
three that are assembled down by the
trail, and a slender, decorative element
for the top that was broken into pieces.”
“But why erect it down by the trail?”
“I thought people should see it,” he
But Herb had something to add. “Some-
“No,” she replied, laughing. “Just
times,” she revealed, “I get a kick out
of watching the occasional person on
the trail stop, scratch their heads, and
wonder why a couple from long ago are
buried alone...in the woods.”
“Anything particular about those
people?” I asked.
people like you.”
Michael Aaron Rockland is an author
and professor of American Studies at
Rutgers University. His latest book, Navy
Crazy, is a memoir of his military service.