I have to admit that I felt a bit like Lara Croft while getting my shots for this photo essay. Last night I read that there was supposed to be a large family tomb that had been built over, but is still somewhat accessible in downtown Houston. Of course this rumor caught my attention and so I began researching. As I conducted my research, I couldn’t help but shake my head at the collective stupidity Houstonians displayed. Not only did I locate the crypt, I also learned that Buffalo Bayou – the bayou that runs through downtown Houston – is apparently full of unexploded ordnance.
The story begins when the US Army marched into Houston and defeated the confederate army stationed here. The confederates wanted to deprive the US Army of rebel munitions and their best and brightest idea was to toss it all into Buffalo bayou.
In June of 1865, as Union forces approached Houston, three barges, “loaded with rifles and cannon balls were driven up stream as far as possible and sunk.” The low Milam Street bridge was as far upstream as the barges could be moved, and it was there – at what is now the Milam Street bridge – they were scuttled. In addition to the 3 barges of live munition, the entire Houston confederate arsenal was dumped into Buffalo Bayou at the same location.
Obviously sinking tons of live munitions into a bayou doesn’t make them just magically disappear from the face of the earth. Instead, they tend to pop up from time to time. And, from time to time, kids discover them. The Donnellans owned the land where the Franklin bridge now stands. As noted in the above article, the Donnellan youth found one of the unexploded bombs and it blew up while they were handling it. After the Donnellan youth were, “blown to bits” the City of Houston organized a volunteer committee to search for hidden bombs in the bayou using sticks to search through the mud. The many bombs that were recovered where taken to Fort Sam Houston and exploded.
No professional ordnance removal has ever occurred at the Franklin and Milam street bridges. In 1906 the Houston Yacht and Power Boat Club blew up a sunken confederate blockade runner named the Augusta to clear the way for a “harbor for pleasure craft and launches.” While they were setting the charges, they recovered, “cannonballs, bombshells and other dangerous Civil War relics.” In 1924, the Milam street bridge was replaced and more unexploded bombs were found. In 1947, 351 cannon balls were discovered during bridge repairs. In 1968, a local history group got a local gun club to finance a one-day dredge of the bayou at Milam and Franklin. They found a number of cannon balls, weapons, guns and unexploded ordnance. Since 1968, there has been no effort to recover any of the civil war artifacts. Today, the only reminder of the possible danger lying under the mud is the Donnellan tomb:
The crypt is located under the Franklin bridge. From what I can tell, there’s some question as to whether the City of Houston owns the crypt. Some speculate that since the City may not be able to prove ownership, the crypt was built over and around instead of torn down.
From the above Chronicle article, “You might even find a tomb buried in the bank under the Franklin Ave. bridge. This tomb was placed there in 1868 and contains the remains of the two boys who were blown to bits while playing with one of the bombs which they took out of the bayou… We gathered what we could of the remains and placed them in a coffin, which we buried in the bayou banks under what is now the Franklin Ave. Street bridge. So far as I know, that tomb still is there.”
If you’d like to read more about this supposed forgotten tomb, here are a couple of interesting links: