On September 6, 1923, a young man, more than likely a runaway, made a gruesome discovery along the north side of the west-bound Grand Trunk Railroad tracks, just south of Bellevue: the body of another young man, dead. He remembered seeing the young man when the train was boarded in Lansing at the freight yards, he told officials later, but never saw him on the train and didn’t witness the accident.
At 4:15 a.m. on Thursday, September 6, 1923, the Eaton County sheriff and coroner were called in to view the body of this young man found near the tracks.
There was no identification on the boy’s body; his pockets were empty of a wallet and money and contained only a few trinkets: a Chicago subway token and some bullets. His hands were soft but also looked like he had worked in a machine shop or a garage, with grime under his nails.
He was of slight build, probably 125-135 pounds, light complected, wearing blue overalls and a blue work shirt, probably around 17 years old. Newspapers of the time referred to him as a “hobo.”
It was assumed that the young man died when he fell from the top of the train car when the train lurched. Officials said that a westbound train pulled out of Bellevue and became uncoupled. The automatic airbrakes set, which brought the train to a sudden stop and threw him to the ground. His death was instantaneous, they surmised. There were no witnesses to the accident.
He suffered a broken neck, crushed ribs, a broken hip, and a fatal wound from a .22 caliber target pistol. The loaded gun had been in his pocket. Six inches of the gun was jammed into his chest from the impact. It had not been fired.
The boy’s photo was circulated in Bellevue, throughout Michigan and throughout the country. Reports state that between 300-400 people from around the country came to Bellevue to view his body, hoping, yet not hoping to identify him as their own missing son. But no one was able to identify or claim him. He was alone in the world, or so it seemed.
When no one claimed him and took on the responsibility of making sure he had a proper burial, the Bellevue community stepped up and adopted him as one of their own. An anonymous contributor paid for his interment expenses. J.W. Carr of Charlotte provided a grave marker. It reads “Bellevue’s Unknown Boy,” along with the date. The church choir sang for him and the local minister spoke and read the Bible for him. Flowers were provided from local gardens; simple gladiolus, cosmos, and asters were brought to the small funeral for the boy no one knew.
He is buried at the extreme southwest corner of the Riverside Cemetery in Bellevue, Section C-11, Lot 764. The cemetery is located at 200 North Main Street in Bellevue, Eaton County, Michigan.
He still has not been identified, 98 years later.