Most ghost stories don’t have happy endings, but that was the case Friday as the cremated remains of seven World War I, World War II and Korean War-era veterans were buried with full military honors at Bath National Cemetery.
The ashes were among 24 sets of remains discovered in a basement closet 10 years ago when the Iron Island Museum opened up at a new address, a former church and funeral home.
It’s still a mystery how the remains — labeled only with names and dates of death — ended up in the closet.
The Buffalo museum features a mix of railroad, military and other items saved by local preservationists. And it’s haunted, according to Linda Hastreiter, president of the museum.
“Strange things were happening all the time,” Hastreiter said, including volunteers seeing “shadowy” people, hearing voices, and the sound of chairs being banged around. “People were seeing things that weren’t really there.”
So a psychic was brought in to investigate the paranormal activities last year. The psychic claimed to detect the presence of a man named Edgar.
Hastreiter checked the names of the ashes, and sure enough, there was an Edward L. Zernicke.
The museum president dug deeper into Zernicke’s life, and found he served in the Marines from 1925 to 1929, fought in the Sandino Rebellion in Nicaragua in 1928 and later spent four years in the Navy before returning to Buffalo.
As a coordinator for the Patriot Guard Riders Veterans Recovery Program, Hastreiter helps find unclaimed veterans’ remains and ensure they receive their final honors.
The Zernicke discovery inspired her to look into the other remains. Once she found out who was a veteran, she then began a quest to find living relatives and secure permission for military burials.
“I’m just glad they didn’t hang up on me,” Hastreiter said.
On Friday, seven sets of the remains were back at the museum, each in a white box on a case beneath an American flag and a display of vintage military uniforms.
Members of an Army honor guard and the Patriot Guard saluted the veterans before carrying each urn from the museum and placing it into a hearse headed to Bath National Cemetery some 90 miles away.
The ceremony at the cemetery included a traditional seven-rifle volley, a trumpeter playing taps, and a bagpiper playing “Amazing Grace.”
Also given a full military burial Friday were Pvt. Louis Danz Sr., whose remains were in custodial care for 33 years; Tec 5 Alfred F. Gerwitz, whose remains were in custodial care for 24 years; Pfc. John E. Havice, whose remains were in custodial care for 27 years; Pvt. Neil K. Lembke, whose remains were in custodial care for 28 years; Osborne F. Sellars, whose remains were in custodial care for 28 years; and Pvt. Robert E. Sweeney, whose remains were in custodial care for 24 years.
“These forgotten veterans have served our country, and, as such, deserve to be buried with honor and respect,” Bill Schaaf, Patriot Guard Riders assistant state captain, said. “Hopefully Edgar’s soul will find peace and won’t be haunting the Iron Island museum anymore.”