Monument placed at 83-year-old officer's unmarked grave
BLUEFIELD, W.Va. (AP) — A gravesite in Bluefield that has been unmarked and barren for more than 83 years now has a monument.
On Friday, family members of West Virginia State Trooper Farley Kirk Litton Sr., the only State Police officer from Bluefield to die in the line of duty and one of only 41 statewide, gathered as a marker was finally placed on his grave in Walnut Grove Cemetery.
“I’m almost speechless,” said Litton’s grandson, Kirk Litton of Christiansburg, “This is special. This is something I wasn’t sure would ever happen.”
The family knew Litton Sr., a motorcycle trooper who was killed on his way to a call in 1935, was buried in the cemetery, but a marker had never been placed so no one knew exactly which unmarked grave was the right one.
In May 2018, though, a call to Kirk Litton started the process of trying to identify the grave.
That call came from West Virginia State Police First Sgt. J.C. Powers, who has been gathering information on all troopers who have died on the job and where they are buried as part of this year’s 100th anniversary of the agency.
“We didn’t have much information (on Litton Sr.),” Powers said, adding that locating the grave was part of what he wanted to do.
He found Kirk Litton and gave him a call, not knowing for sure what the relation may be or if the call would be of any help. The rest, as they say, is history.
Litton told him the problem of not being able to find the gravesite and a renewed effort was made to locate it.
“He (Powers) actually had gone to the cemetery and could not find the grave,” Litton said. “He asked for help and he wants to tell the story of these men.”
That’s when Litton, who grew up in Bluefield and played football under Coach John Chmara at Bluefield High School, and his fiancee, Janice Hodge, started an intense search.
From digging into cemetery records to even using wire coat hangers to “divine” the graves, the same procedure for finding underground water, the quest kept running into roadblocks.
Litton said his grandmother bought a “section” of eight plots, which is how they were sold at the time, but there is no way to know which section she purchased.
“They (the plots) were marked as sold and somebody is buried there but no names were attached to them,” he said, adding that a marker was probably not placed at the time because his grandmother had received $2,000 from the State Police in life insurance but it was during the depression, money was tight, and she used it to buy a house for her and her young son.
“Growing up, my dad would take us there but all he ever knew was an approximate location of the grave,” Litton said. “There was no tombstone or footstone and the plot location was never recorded. Both of my grandparents are buried there, but no markers.”
Litton said there are no markers on large portions of the cemetery and no record of burial places can be found.
Mercer Funeral Home was in charge of arrangements and many Walnut Grove records went to them, but even if they had the records, most may have been lost to a fire in 1972.
“A lot of Walnut Grove records were lost in that fire,” he said. Although a charred folder on his grandmother was found it contained no useful information as far as the location of the plots.
Possible locations were narrowed down, but not the exact one.
That scenario recently changed by fortune.
“We were looking through a family photo album,” Litton said, one they had been through many times. “But this time we saw a small corner of paper wedged between the pages and pulled it out.”
What they pulled out was a small photo of the gravesite with flowers on it taken in 1935 when his grandfather was laid to rest there.
Litton and Powers, working with an enlarged photocopy of the picture, went to the cemetery and used the background, including nearby houses, to eventually pinpoint the exact grave.
“The picture was the key,” Litton said.
Powers said the State Police worked with Lawson Monument Comp. in Huntington to create the monument and they donated it to the family.
“We never thought we would see this day,” Hodge said as family members watched as the monument was set in place, a tribute to a man who had been a trooper for only a few months when he was killed.
Farley Litton Sr. had moved to Bluefield with his parents in 1929 and was initially a fireman with the Bluefield Fire Department as well as a member of the National Guard 150th Infantry.
He enlisted in the National Guard on May 29, 1933 and received an honorable discharge on June 14, 1934, when he decided to apply for the West Virginia State Police Academy.
At that time, he had been a fireman for three years in Bluefield.
He was accepted into the academy and started in early 1935. While at the academy, in January, Kirk Litton’s father, Farley Kirk Litton Jr. was born to his grandfather’s young wife, who was only 19 at the time.
“My grandfather began working as a State Trooper on Aug. 1, 1935 (in Tyler County),” Litton said. “He was a motorcycle State Trooper.”
On Nov. 8, 1935, after just over three months on his new job with an 8-month old baby boy at home and his parents nearby, Litton Sr., 26, was on duty at the Middlebourne-Pruny Town high school football game.
“He was called away to respond to a call,” Litton said. “He was going around a curve and another vehicle crossed the center line and hit him head-on.”
He died later that night.
The funeral was held in Bluefield at Trinity United Methodist Church, Litton said, and 20-25 state officials attended. He had found several articles on the funeral, including one from the Bluefield Daily Telegraph and the Charleston Gazette.
Kirk Litton still has many of his grandfather’s belongings from the day he was killed.
“I have his State Police hat, gloves and shoes, his watch and other things in his pockets that he had on him when he was killed. My grandmother saved those for my dad. You can still see the blood on the gloves.”
Litton said he is donating some of those items to the State Police to help commemorate the 100th anniversary.
One thing that happened during this search is something Litton and his brother Eddie said everyone should hear, and that is what they discovered about their grandfather in the process, which included reading many letters between Litton Sr. and his wife.
“There is a rich history that we didn’t know about,” Litton said, relating an example. “We never knew he had a music background.”
Litton Sr. played the trumpet and his wife didn’t want him to join the State Police. She wanted him to stay in Bluefield and play with a local orchestra instead.
“I would encourage other people to learn all about their family history,” Litton said.
With that new knowledge of his grandfather and the marker finally in place, Litton said it has brought closure for the family.
The next stop for the family will be at the Cultural Center in Charleston in June to make the donation and help honor the 41 State Troopers who have died in the line of duty in the 100-year history of the State Police.
Powers said the document establishing the West Virginia State Police, which is the sixth oldest in the country, was signed by the governor at the time on March 29, 1919 and became effective June 29, 1919.
Information from: Bluefield Daily Telegraph, http://www.bdtonline.com