Archive for May 10th, 2010


First, three simple facts:

b&w cemetery

1.  In Colorado, people can have graves on their property and not know it.

2.  I now possess some fantastic first-hand raw material for a Stephen King-type book.

3.  I spent Saturday listening to a scientist describe how easy it is to access basic information concerning whoever is buried in that lost grave simply by asking.

Right there, at the grave, asking.  No, the spirit or dead person isn’t going to answer you.  Don’t be ridiculous.  But the energy of memories is still there.  As a physicist, he doesn’t understand the mechanism of the phenomenon.  He just knows how to access those memories and get basic answers:  Is an adult or child buried here?  Male or female?  How old was the person at the time of death?  How deep down are the remains? 

I am not making this up.

But before I continue…

Yes, I know this blog is about my thriller The Compass Master and I’m supposed to be exploring Layla’s world of action and archeology and antiquities.

But think about it.  Layla’ expertise in ancient Christian texts and manuscripts would by necessity include knowledge of tombs, mausoleums, and other creepy places.  She has a background in archeology and archeologists are forever crawling around tombs and graves.  There’s also an important scene in The Compass Master that takes place in one of Rome’s catacombs.   And she has a gift for finding what her clients are looking for.

nunnery tomb

So it seemed that learning about lost graves around my home state could provide some background information.  At the very least, I might learn something intriguing to use in another novel. 

And that’s why on Saturday I drove to the rural town of Loveland and its museum to hear a lecture entitled Finding Your Ancestors Underground

The scientist who gave the lecture was an elderly WWII veteran named Duane Kniebes; he has degrees in chemistry and physics and still works as an expert witness in gas and oil explosions.  For about ten years he has also done volunteer work with the Colorado Cemetery Location Project in conjunction with the U.S. Geological Survey of Geographic Names Association and with the Colorado Council of Genealogical Societies. 

Basically, volunteers like Mr. Kniebes take a county, investigate its records in libraries and archives regarding cemeteries or isolated graves, or get oral histories from rural landowners about possible Indian or Old West settler graves on their properties.  Then they go to those graves, obtain GPS readings, and document everything as much as possible.  Their findings become part of an official record.

rock grave

In other words, Mr. Kniebes was no flake and he went out of his way to emphasize the scientific parameters of his work.

His small audience seemed equally no-nonsense.  Most of the folks were gray-haired, down-to-earth small town and rancher types who looked liked they ate meat and potatoes, drove pickup trucks, grew up close to the land and always vote Republican.  And only a few of them appeared slightly skeptical of what this man was telling them about accessing memories of the dead.  Well, if you knew about their experiences…

Mr. Kniebes first showed PowerPoint photos of isolated graves he and his wife had documented.  The graves appeared to be nothing more than some rocks on the ground.  But his expert eye could detect whether it was an Indian grave, or of a small child, or of a white or Mexican adult.  Some of the details were touching – a baby or toddler was usually buried within close view of the homestead, while an adult was on a hill’s crest.  Ninety percent of the time their body orientation is east-west, as if the dead might like to sit up to see the rising sun.  (Layla could tell you that with Muslims the orientation is reversed:  the head lies toward the East and Mecca, the feet to the West.)  Three small white stones might mark a baby’s grave, but Indians would cover theirs from head to foot with fist-sized rocks.  Some of those photos made me realize that I’ve hiked past Indian graves several times in my life and never known it.

“Now I’ll get to what you came here for,” Mr. Kniebes said.  And he pulled out a couple of wire rods.

Sweden dowsing

He told us that it was a sexton at a library who ten years earlier got him “started on rods.”  When Mr. Kniebes told him about locating a nearby grave, the sexton asked, “Did you use your witch sticks?”

“My what?” Mr. Kniebes asked.

The sexton grabbed a pair of metal bent rods from his office and showed Mr. Kniebes how to dowse for graves and get information from a dead one’s memories.

You got it.  Dowsing.  As in the ancient art.  As in witch sticks.  Divining rods.  Willow branches.

Ten years later, Mr. Kniebes and his wife are experts on grave dowsing.  They can locate graves with simple home-made rods and, in many cases, get information about who is buried in them.

And I haven’t even gotten to the strange part yet.  Or about the group’s field trip to the local cemetery.  I’ll tell you more within the next couple days.