BENTON — Cindy Gagnon is developing a reputation for solving grave mysteries.

Just last year, thanks to the efforts of the 63-year-old Gagnon, a headstone that had been sitting for ages in the L.C. Bates Museum in Fairfield was returned to the gravesite from which it had been missing.

And then another headstone mystery landed in her lap.

As she was beginning work this spring with the Benton cemetery committee and Daughters of the American Revolution, Gagnon was approached by a man facing a conundrum.

Gagnon was at Ames Cemetery in Benton when she ran into Luke Schaedle, 56. Schaedle was there looking for a grave missing the headstone that he had had in his possession for decades. So he asked Gagnon to try and track it down.

Schaedle lives along the Sebasticook River in Benton and was there before the Benton dam was completed in the early 1990s. A neighbor found the stone partially buried in the person’s yard, which would be underwater once the impoundment formed behind the dam. So Schaedle went and dug out the headstone and brought it home.


The stone was still in one piece, “absolutely gorgeous,” Gagnon said. The inscription has been worn away by time but was still legible, with the name Mary J. Foss, who died at 29 years old in 1871. The inscription describes her as the wife of Albert B. Foss and the daughter of R.C. and E.R. Spaulding.

He likened the headstone to a lost piece of history, and he didn’t want to see it vanish when the area flooded.

He thought it might have come from a cemetery upriver, but could never find the gravesite. The stone was shuffled around Schaedle’s yard for years.

“Over the years we’ve tried a few people, nobody seemed interested enough to come pick it up until I ran into Cindy,” Schaedle said.

Gagnon, a Benton resident, was happy to take on the challenge following her success last year in finding the proper gravesite in China Village Cemetery for the headstone marking the death in 1865 of Margaret Ayer.

So she returned to, a website aimed at finding and sharing burial information, and searched until she got a lead — at Benton Falls Cemetery, right in town.


She learned that Foss’ husband was a soldier in the Civil War and spent roughly a year imprisoned before returning home in late 1862. Albert Foss died nine years after he returned, although she couldn’t find a cause of death.

Schaedle and Gagnon are stumped on how the stone ended up where it did. The two initially thought a flood had swept it downriver, but the spot where Schaedle retrieved it is actually upstream from the cemetery.

Gagnon had expected that to be the end of the story — grave found and stone returned. But as she was poking around online she saw that Mary Foss’ mother had the maiden name Richardson, a big name in Benton. So she dug a little deeper and found that Foss’ grandfather was Andrew Richardson II.

That’s when bells started to go off for Gagnon. Although many people wouldn’t know a connection that far in the past, Gagnon knew that the current chapter regent for the Fort Halifax chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Sandra Swallow, was related to Andrew Richardson I, a Revolutionary War veteran.

She did more research and sure enough it was the same family tree, and Swallow is a descendent of Foss. Swallow said she was surprised to learn of Foss’ stone, and pleased that it was Gagnon who discovered the connection — she calls Gagnon the “headstone sleuth.”

Cindy Gagnon digs out the footstone at the gravesite at Benton Falls Cemetery for Mary Foss, who died in 1871. Gagnon reset the footstone in April and then later the headstone, which had been missing for several decades before it was returned to the gravesite. The site overlooks the Sebasticook River, at top. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Her family has always been invested in keeping track of their ancestors, with five generations joining the Daughters of the American Revolution. In fact many years ago one of Swallow’s relatives had fought to recover a different family headstone that somehow ended up as the doorstop on someone’s property.

And so the story came full circle for all three involved: Gagnon solved another mystery, Swallow found another memento of family history and Schaedle finally was able to answer a 30-year-old question.

“It’s really good to know that it’s been brought back to the correct family plot and to the person,” Schaedle said.

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