Ms. James announced to the class that each student would have to do an oral report about a famous local person of any time period.
"You can base your report on a living person or a dead person. You can use any of the many monuments or statues in town as the basis for your report, if you choose a dead person. It will be due on Friday and on Monday and Tuesday, every one of you will give your oral presentation. Do you all understand?"
The kids moaned and made various affirmative sounds, generally, then put their things away to leave for their next classes.
"This should be the most boring assignment, yet," complained Robbie as he walked through the hall with his classmates.
"Yeah, I have no idea who to write about," said one.
"Well, there are lots of old statues in town, just pick one, read the name on it and go from there," said one of the girls.
"Sounds like you're going to enjoy this," said one of the boys.
"It should be interesting, I think," the girl replied.
That night at dinner with her family, Beth told her parents about the oral report assignment and they started making suggestions of whom she could write about John Barron, Robert Kits, George Wellman, and a few more. None of the names really sounded interesting to her, though.
"Tomorrow I'll ride my bike around town and look at the monuments and see what I can find that looks interesting," said Beth.
"That's a good idea, I'm sure you'll find at least one to write about, our little town has a long and interesting history," her mother said.
The next day Beth rode her bike all through the town and viewed the statues and monuments in every park - a man standing and holding a rifle, a man on a horse, another man holding a rifle and riding a horse, and more of the same all over town. Then there was one, a man standing and looking out into the distance, not holding a rifle, not riding a horse, just standing and looking out into the world. She paused and pondered this statue, then read the placard, "Thomas Tomason, 1818-1859". That's all it said. She knew right then that she had to find out who this mystery man was. She took photos of the statue and the placard and went to the library.
At the library, she went directly to the books of local history and grabbed everything, she could find about the town, which was a lot, but enough to fill her arms. She spent the next 4 and a half hours pouring through the books and found very little information about Thomas Tomason, 1818-1859.
There was one paragraph, actually little more than a couple sentences that told of a man named Thomas Tomason who lived on a farm near the town. It said nothing about who he was or what he did. She was becoming more intrigued by this mystery man with a statue honoring his memory.
On Monday after school, she went to the town offices, asked about the archives, and explained what she was researching. And, the clerk said, "Sure, you go in and search around, good luck."
Again, some 4 hours of searching through the archives garnered little more than a few sentences about the Tomason family farm, located about 3 miles southwest of town. She found it on an old map dated 1886, compared that to a modern map, and found what appeared to be the original farm. Tuesday she rode her bike out there after school.
She rode out to the farm and found a couple of dilapidated buildings, possibly an old farm house and a barn and some other smaller building, and lots of junk laying around, refuse that had been dumped there over the years by locals. She walked around the buildings and found nothing of any real interest, all the windows were long ago broken out, the doors were gone, and the interiors were a disaster of refuse. She couldn't find anything interesting, not even any old photos, cups or other dishes, nothing. It was the same in the barn and in the other outbuilding, for which she was unable to determine a purpose.
She walked around the property looking closely for anything interesting, anything that might be a clue to its past. All she found were a few rusty horseshoes. At the back of the property she found a couple of knocked-over gravestones, one was marked Estela Tomason and the other George Tomason. They both had one date - 1859.
"Hmm, that's the same year of death as our dear old Thomas Tomason," thought Beth. She took photos of the grave markers and the old buildings and property. Then she rode back home before it got dark.
At dinner her dad asked, "Well, sweetie, how are you doing on your report project?"
Beth replied, "Dad, do you know anything about some guy from the 1800's named Thomas Tomason?"
Her dad replied, "Hmm, no, but there is a statue of him across town in a little park, is he the one you're writing about?"
"Yes," she said, "if I can find any information about him. So far, I've looked through a stack of books at the library and found nothing; I went to the town archives and found where he lived, on a farm 3 miles outside of town. So I went there this afternoon, and it's all ruined and in a big mess, and there's nothing interesting left. Except I found to graves, one marked for Estela Tomason and the other for George Tomason. And, they both have the same year of death as Thomas on the statue. There's nothing else written on them. Do you think they could've been his parents?"
"Hmm, I suppose that's as good a guess as any. Looks like you have two more names to search for, tomorrow," she encouraged her.
"Yeah, this is interesting, you know, that the town has a monument to a man yet there is no information about him anywhere. I find that very strange," said Beth.
"Yes, I agree, I hope you can find out who he was and what he did to warrant a statue. If you do you can get it printed in the newspaper," he mom said.
"That'd be cool," Beth said, "I'm finished, I'm going to do some internet searching to see if I can find anything. I'll try some genealogy sites this time."
At school the next day, she stayed after class to talk to her teacher, "Ms. James, I chose the monument to Thomas Tomason, you know that one?"
"Yes, I do. I'm curious, why did you choose him?" asked Ms. James.
"Well, the placard has only his name, birth year, and death year. And he is simply standing there looking out at, I don't know, nothing, I guess."
"He is something of a mystery to this town, him, and his family," said Ms. James.
"Yeah, so I've discovered. The library has almost nothing about him, I found a couple of unimportant sentences about him. The town archives weren't much better, but I did find the family farm."
"Really? How'd you find it?" asked Ms. James.
"I found an old map from the 1800's, here's a picture of the map," she showed her teacher the photo of the map, "and then I compared it to a current map, and I found the location of their farm."
"Wow, that's very good, Beth," Ms. James said as she looked at the map photo.
"Then I went out to the farm and actually found it".
"Very good, but were you safe? Did you take someone else with you?" asked Ms. James.
"I was fine, Ms. James. I was alone, but nothing happened. But, I did find something that might turn out of some use - I found two grave markers. I think they might have been the parent of Thomas Tomason. But, they had only the names and the death year, which was the same as on the placard for Thomas Tomason. It's really kind of strange."
"Hmm, yeah, sounds like you've found yourself a nice mystery to solve. Do you think you'll be able to finish by Friday?" Ms. James asked.
"I hope so, but I don't know," Beth said, her voice trailed off a little in the possibility of a disappointing outcome.
"Well, do as much as you can, anything is better than nothing, and, who knows, maybe you'll solve a mystery this town has never solved," said Ms. James.
Beth went back to the statue and inspected the placard with a magnifying glass after giving it a thorough cleaning. In the bottom right corner, she found two letters - SS. "I wonder, maybe SS is the initials of the person who made this statue," she said to herself.
"SS is for Salvator Santini," a man said when he overheard her talking to herself. "He made this memorial in 1878. I think you can see that in the left bottom corner."
She looked very closely at the left bottom corner and sure enough, there she found the number 1878.
"So, who was he? This Thomas Tomason? What do you know about him?" asked Beth, as she stood up to get a better view of the man she was talking to. He was an old man, maybe ninety years old, she thought.
"Well, what I know about him is what I heard from my grandfather. There wasn't much known about the Tomason family, even back in their own days," he said as he walked over to a bench to sit down. Beth sat next to him took out her phone and set it to record their conversation.
He continued, "They lived just outside town a few miles," then Beth interrupted him.
"Yeah, I found their farm. There's a house, a barn, and another building, too small to be a house or a barn. I suppose it was a shed of some kind. I couldn't find anything useful, nothing that gave any clue to them," she told him about her visit to the old homestead.
"Well, you might want to go back for another look. I heard there was a hidden room somewhere that nobody ever found. Anyway, about Thomas, the stories were the family was a simple farming family. No big ranch, no cattle, or horses to speak of. They simply grew the food they needed, lived on the beef and chickens they could raise for themselves. They only visited town when they needed supplies they couldn't make for themselves. You could say they were just a normal frontier family that kept to themselves."
"Then why is there a memorial statue to him? He must've done something interesting that that Salvator guy would make a statue of him," said Beth.
"Hmm, you'd think so, wouldn't you? The fact is, the story says Salvator simply wanted to memorialize the everyman, the frontier life, as it really was - simple. But, it was also hard work. If you can get a ladder out here you should look at his face, it will tell you everything," the old man said.
"Wow, that's amazing! Memorialize the normal. I don't think that's ever been done. People only memorialize the incredible, the amazing, the super people. Hey, what's that about a secret room?" asked Beth.
"My granddaddy said they had a secret room under the house. I don't know it was true or not. And what it might have been used for, well, if you find it, maybe you'll figure that out for all of us," said the old man with a wink. He got up from the bench and walked away.
"Hey, mister! What's you name?" asked Beth
"Hank, Hank Tomason," said the old man, and he went around the statue, and Beth never saw him again.
"Weird! Where'd he go?"
The next day after school Beth and her friend Aidan rode their bikes out to the old homestead of the Tomason's and started looking around for a possible hidden room. They were stomping around on the floor of the house and couldn't find anything, and didn't hear any sounds that would indicate a hollow space. Then they went out to the small outbuilding and stomped around inside it, when Aidan noticed something odd about the room - the inside didn't seem to match the outside walls.
Aidan walked around the outside of the little structure and knocked on the walls while Beth listened on the inside, and they found that the interior back wall was not the outside back wall. But, there also was not apparent way into whatever space was behind it, so Aiden found a metal bar and started breaking into the interior wall. Soon they had a hole and were able to pull the wall completely down.
Behind the wall was another small room and in it were an armchair and a side table, a shelf with books on it, and a lantern.
"What on earth? A reading room? Why would it be hidden?" asked Aidan.
"I can't imagine," replied Beth as she started stomping on the floorboards, listening for a hollow sound. There was none.
She started taking photos of the room and the books. Then she removed on of the books, opened it to the title page, and read the title and the author - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain; The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain; McTeague by Frank Norris; The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James, and many other classics.
"Aidan, these books, look at this," she showed him the page with the copy write, "it's an original," she almost whispered. "All of these books are famous classics and it looks like they are all originals. These have to be worth a fortune!"
"Jesus, Beth, what should we do with them? If we take them are we stealing them? Should we tell the library? Or some historical society?" asked Aidan.
"I don't know, wait, I'm going to call my parents and ask them," said Beth and she called her parents.
Her dad told her, "I think you should contact the library and let them take care of the books the best way possible. For now, you should probably not touch any more of them, they could be fragile."
An hour later, a car pulled up to the old farm and two people came looking for Beth and the books. They collected them all very carefully, packed them so they would be preserved, and returned to the library. Eventually the books made their way to a university and displayed for everyone to view, but not touch. There were 28 books, all originals, in pristine condition.
Friday came; Beth had her turn to tell her oral report about the unexciting Thomas Tomason and his unexciting family. She told the story the old man told her and about the hidden room and the treasure of books she and Aidan had found.
The Saturday edition of the local newspaper carried the story that Beth wrote, finally bringing the story of completely normal and unexciting Thomas Tomason to the town that memorialized the man with no known reason for doing so.
Now there is a memorial to the "everyman" that quite possibly doesn't exist anywhere else in the world.