An Elmwood neighbor converting a backyard shed into a chicken coop this past weekend turned up a creepy surprise.

Melissa Love-Tristan and her mom, Patsy Love, were using paver stones to close the gap under a raised shed when they dug up a metal box.

“At first I thought it was some kind of trinket box, you know, how sometimes people will put treasures in a box and bury it,” Love-Tristan says.

She set it aside with plans to look inside.

“Then my mom goes, ‘Wait a minute. There’s another box.’ She sees the name and dates, and she says, ‘Oh, Melissa.’ ”

They found a third box, with no name, and they decided to stop looking any further.


What they’d found are the cremation ashes for J.C. Toland (Jan. 28, 1885-April 25, 1950) and his wife, Mary Brewer Toland (Aug. 13, 1893 – Dec. 20, 1955).

“There’s nothing to identify this third set of ashes,” Love-Tristan says. “That’s the biggest mystery to me.”

Research found that the Tristans’ house on Brunner had once belonged to Merit Toland, the Tolands’ only son.

J.C. Toland had worked in the oil and gas business and, after moving to Dallas in 1928, real estate. He was a first cousin and childhood pal of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black.

1011DD72E017CB16_636039235082815770Mrs. Toland was from Indiana and had married in Kansas, where she’d graduated from college and become a teacher. She taught at what was then known as the Buckner Orphans Home in far East Dallas.

They had lived on Haskell, Swiss Avenue and Velasco. Merit Toland served in World War II; he and his wife, Rose Marie, are buried at the Dallas Fort Worth National Cemetery. Their son, Christopher, also is buried there.

Love-Tristan’s research found that the Tolands were Presbyterians, and their funerals had taken place at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church on Skillman, which is still there.

On Sunday, she and her son brought the ashes to the minister there and asked for them to be blessed.

“He did that, and we were about to leave, he said ‘This is just about the trickiest thing ever,'” Love-Tristan says.

She’s tried contacting who she thinks might be Toland descendants but hasn’t heard back yet. And she’s asking the DFW National Cemetery to bury the ashes with their son. If that goes nowhere, she says, she’ll bury them in another corner of her backyard.