6 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY OCTOBER 26-NOVEMBER 1, 2023 www.montereycountyweekly.com 831 If one is to believe the words of two men, each knighted by a pope, then this is true: Beneath the Carmel Mission, below the state’s first library, lies the skeleton of what might be a murder victim. It’s impossible to know whether the bones lie at the scene of a crime, as they’re not in a coffin, or a crypt— they’re lodged in what is believed to be the mission’s original wine cellar. And all evidence—though there’s not much of it, at least not yet—suggests that the bones are not remains of a Spaniard, Mexican or Native American. Rather, they’re most likely the remains of an American soldier. In 1931, when Harry Downie, a master cabinet maker, began what would become a lifelong effort to restore the ruined Carmel Mission to its former glory, one of the first orders of business was to dig down to the mission’s foundation. While excavating an area adjacent to the mission’s cenotaph, he and his crew unearthed a sandstone stairwell, and kept digging until they reached the base. There, Downie would later recall, was the skeleton, with a musket ball lodged in its spine. Around it were American-period artifacts and an American military saber of the type used during the Mexican-American War. (It’s currently displayed in the mission’s museum, without any accompanying identification.) But there was neither the money nor manpower at the time to uncover and stabilize the stone-vaulted chamber, which Downie was convinced was a wine cellar. So he decided to rebury what had been uncovered until a restoration could be done sometime in the future. For decades, the existence of the cellar remained mostly forgotten, but not by Downie. Enter Richard Menn, who began working with Downie at the mission in the late 1960s, when he was a young craftsman. Menn, who like Downie would later be knighted for his work on the mission (and other missions), did much of the restoration work over the last decade-plus of Downie’s life. He was his right-hand man, and eventually, his confidante—Downie told the story of the wine cellar discovery to Menn, and the only evidence he could provide, other than his word, was the saber. After Downie died in 1980, Menn would become the curator of California’s missions. In 2002, wanting to finish a job that Downie could not, he approached Ruben Mendoza, an archaeologist and founding faculty member at the fledgling CSU Monterey Bay. Menn presented him with a mission: rediscover the location of the wine cellar so that it could be recovered and restored. Mendoza, whose pickup truck wears a bumper sticker that reads “I Dig Missions,” accepted. The archaeologist and his students began work in January 2003, which they carried out for about two years. They uncovered artifacts that help fill in the mission’s history, but they didn’t find the chamber. On a recent Friday in Salinas at the Monterey County Historical Society— where Mendoza, now retired, volunteers every week—he recalls that dig some 20 years ago, and says he essentially guessed wrong about where the stairwell would be in relation to the library. “I dug on the south side,” he says. “The entry is on the north side of that room block.” Mendoza’s confidence in that is bolstered by the fact that, about a decade ago, a Carmel-area electrician approached him and recounted a story his dad told him about the wine cellar. He showed Mendoza the area where the stairwell’s entrance was—it lined up with Menn’s approximation, based on what Downie had told him. Mendoza hasn’t worked at Carmel Mission since 2005, but he’s confident the cellar exists. Based on his research, he believes the skeleton is the remains of a soldier under the command of Col. John C. Frémont. The whole story is detailed in a soon-to-be-published academic article Mendoza authored for Boletín, an endof-the-year print journal produced by the California Missions Foundation. While it’s fascinating to hypothesize about the various scenarios that led to a possible murder, it’s far more intriguing to consider the existence of the cellar itself—an archaeological treasure, still waiting to be rediscovered. Chilled Bones Is there a buried wine cellar under the Carmel Mission? And is a skeleton entombed within it? By David Schmalz Harry Downie, left, seen here at the Carmel Mission in the 1930s, near the beginning of his five-decade effort to restore the historic site. There was the skeleton and a military saber. TALES FROM THE AREA CODE MONTEREY COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY/PAT HATHAWAY COLLECTION Spooky Season “Graniterock has been a proud member of the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce for over 40 years! The social aspect of chamber membership has always been a highlight and in today's rapidly changing world the networking, support and resources afforded our company have been invaluable. I would urge any business in the area to join the chamber and as with any organization, the more involved you are, the more you will get out of it.” Join Today! at montereychamber.com “I have been a member of the Monterey Peninsula Chamber of Commerce since 2014, and highly recommend joining this peninsula-wide Chamber to other businesses. The Chamber provides great networking and marketing opportunities, which is very helpful, especially for new business owners.” WHAT OUR MEMBERS ARE SAYING: — Jacquie Atchison Arts Council for Monterey County montereychamber.com info@montereychamber.com 831.648.5350