R-C Alpine bureau
Old Bill Eggleston is no longer in hiding. He’d been right there the whole time — well, since 1941 anyhow. But for a good decade or so, Bill’s headstone at the Fredericksburg Cemetery had been completely invisible — engulfed by a massive lilac bush.
On May 10, armed with rakes, clippers and chainsaws, more than 20 volunteers descended on Fredericksburg Cemetery for the annual clean-up day. Tumbleweeds, leaves, and at least half of that overgrown lilac bush were whisked away. And there in the middle of the cemetery, in the middle of the erstwhile lilac bush, was Bill’s headstone. I imagine him revelling in having sunlight for a change.
Just exactly who William H. Eggleston was remains something of a mystery. We know he was born in Pennsylvania around the start of the Civil War: 1862, according to his headstone. Or 1860, according to his death record. Perhaps even Bill himself didn’t quite know for sure.
Long-time Alpiners say Bill was a carpenter, and a good one. He used to occupy a little house on Markleeville’s main street, just north of today’s post office. He was a practical man, a working man, and the proud owner of a Model T Ford.
Model Ts didn’t roll off Henry Ford’s assembly line boasting an ignition switch. Rather than turn a key, Model T owners had to use sheer muscle-power to start their cars, applied vigorously to a hand-crank in the front. And if you weren’t quite vigorous enough, the engine would spin back — yanking the hand-crank with it. Those engines were heavy: think strains, sprains, and broken arms.
Hand-cranks and broken appendages were not for our Bill. He was, after all, a practical man. Rather than bow nearly double, break into a sweat, and risk life and limb, Bill would simply jack the car up and spin the rear wheels to get his engine to sputter to life. Sure, it took an extra minute or two. But it “didn’t kick as hard,” either, as one old-timer chuckled when he told me that story.
Bill died at the ripe old age of 80. He’d seen his share: those brave Johnnys marching home after the War Between the States. The doughboys returning from overseas after World War I, that war to end all wars. It was March 10, 1941, when Bill finally breathed his last, and yet another war was just getting rolling. Perhaps he was just as happy to miss it. You can visit William H. Eggleston now, if you like, at the Fredericksburg Cemetery. Just look for his lilac bush.