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Mystery comes to a head

Courtney Astolfi • Sep 25, 2013 at 9:50 AM

When a teenaged Ted Machock brought a human skeleton home on one summer afternoon in 1951, his mother reacted the only way she possibly could.

“She snickered, said OK and told me not to get dirt on the floor,” Machock said.

So began the decades-long journey of one Northern Ohioan resident, back to the creek where she was laid to rest.

Download a narrative provided by Machock below

Last week, the now 78-year-old Machock handed over a skull he unearthed more than half a century ago at Old Woman Creek, a national estuarine research reserve east of Huron.

Machock had long ago moved to California, but on a recent trip back home he decided to tie up one loose end that had lingered at the back of his mind for years.

“I didn’t want that piece of history dying with me,” Machock said.

In the post-war years, Machock’s Elyria-based family began spending their summers at Hartley Beach and Old Woman Creek.    Machock quickly fell in love with the area and spent his vacations exploring each back-channel waterway and taking in the lay of the land.

He soon befriended a woman he called “Grandma Smith,” an avid, inquisitive naturalist who lived near the creek.

Machock also attended Camp Firelands as a Boy Scout in those years. By sheer coincidence, he learned from a camp instructor that a human skeleton, believed to be Native American in origin, was discovered and re-interred on Grandma Smith’s property while workers dug a new water line.

When his family went on their annual vacation the following week, an eager Machock asked his “summer mother” about the remains found on her property.

Grandma Smith told him that when workers encountered the bones, they re-routed the water line, gave her the cranium, and filled the burial site over with dirt. They then left the majority of the bones in the ground.

With Smith’s blessing, Machock spent the next week excavating the site. He sifted through the soil with sieves of varying sizes, sketched out the bones’ exact positions, and removed, cleaned and labeled each one.

Smith also gave him the skull, so Machock left Old Woman Creek that year with a nearly complete human skeleton.

Through an examination on the skull when it was first discovered and the expertise of his teacher’s physician friend, Machock learned the bones were likely those of an elderly Native American woman. She was buried in a shallow grave, and her skull had a triangle-shaped hole in the temple.

In a narrative he wrote that accompanied the skull upon its return to Erie County last week, Machock compared the details of his skeleton to the legend of the creek’s namesake.

“It would be wonderful to add to the lore of the area,” Machock said. “I still consider this a competitive view of how the creek got its name.”

Whether or not this is the case, Machock hopes his find will pique the curiosity of those sharing the same shores of the woman who lived, and died, at Old Woman Creek centuries ago.

The skull was the only bone Machock was able to locate at his mother’s house years later. On Friday, he turned it over to Frank Lopez, manager of Old Woman Creek.

Lopez passed it on to the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, which then handed it over to the Erie and Lucas county coroners for further analysis. If the results show the woman was indeed Native American, her skull will likely be returned to Native American tribal descendants for a recommittal ceremony.

“It’s so enjoyable to talk about this wonderful little piece of Ohio lore,” Machock said. “I feel like I’m fulfilling a debt to the dead and also leaving something for history.”

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