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Laying a forefather to rest

It felt good, planting the copper canister marked 3414 deep in the damp earth in the

Hargadine Cemetery in Ashland last Sunday.

Burying the cremated remains of Jonas Fattig, my paternal grandfather, closed a sad chapter in the Fattig family history book.

Hargadine was where he bought the north half of lot 40 in 1904 for &

36;5 to bury his daughter Bessie Belle, age 6, who died of measles June 10 of that year. We buried him beside her.

— About now you're thinking he must have been mighty old. He was ancient, in fact. He was born 148 years ago in Iowa on Jan. 22, 1858, three years before the Civil War erupted.

But for nearly 60 years, his earthly remains have been among the roughly 3,500 unclaimed cremated ashes stored in the Oregon State Hospital in Salem.

The old farmer had been committed by his eldest son to the state asylum in spring 1947 when he was 89. He died far from family or friends.

My four siblings and I never knew our grandfather. He died before we were born. His wife and our grandmother, Harriett Viola Fattig, had died in 1940.

But it has always bothered us that his remains were never claimed by his grown children.

The word heartless comes to mind.

We had known that he had died in the state hospital, but had assumed his remains were buried on the hospital grounds. However, a article early in January mentioned the vast number of unclaimed remains, prompting my search to see if Gramp's ashes were among them.

We received his medical records by mail early last month, including copies of two Western Union telegrams. One was from the hospital staff to Charles Fattig, his eldest son then living in Josephine County. It notified him that his father had died Sept. 17, 1947, and requested him to wire funeral instructions.

In regards to remains of Jonas Fattig am leaving to your disposal, my now defunct uncle replied in the second telegram.

Like I said, cold.

His cause of death was listed as bronchopneumonia. The experts in the white coats also noted his clinical diagnosis was senile psychosis.

As ringey as a church bell, was the family diagnosis.

According to family lore, the elderly gent was sent to the hospital after strolling buck naked amongst a group of startled church ladies on a Sunday picnic near his farm in Holland. That's an old community in the Illinois Valley, not the place with wooden shoes and windmills.

We were notified March 14 that his cremains had been positively identified. The hospital staff offered to mail Gramps, but we figured his remains had been through enough without having to go postal.

The next day my wife, Maureen, and I drove to Salem to pick up old number 3414.

Most Oregonians equate the hospital with the 1975 award-winning flick One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, based on the novel by Ken Kesey, who once worked there. It was a good read, although not Kesey's best work.

We found no rabble-rousing Randle McMurphy, domineering Big Nurse or silent Chief Bromden, only a pleasant staff ready to hand over what was left of the family patriarch.

But I couldn't help feeling depressed by the sight of the old section of the hospital, now closed, where he was likely housed during his final months of life. It resembled a gloomy prison with its barred windows. Dark clouds threatening rain added to the dismal atmosphere.

Driving south, I thought about the changes in Oregon since he died. There were strip malls and mauled strips, folks chatting on cell phones and watching videos in SUVs speeding down the freeway.

We were cruising along at 65 miles per hour, no doubt far faster than grandpa, born in the horse and buggy era, had ever traveled.

He spent a few days on our piano at home before his final trip to the cemetery. Knowing that he had played fiddle at barn dances in the Applegate Valley back in the day, I let it be known there had better be no tunes at night or he would be kicked out on his ash. He didn't misbehave.

Jonas Fattig, who had arrived in Ashland more than a century ago, was buried on the last day of winter. Members of his family were there for him, including his great-great-grandchildren Erik and Meghan.

Perhaps it was only coincidence the day was sunny and bright.

Rest in peace, grandpa.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at Laying a forefather to rest"pfattig@mailtribune.com.