Family members gather at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito to give a proper farewell to Maurice Fraley. From left: Don Juelich, Lana Rabbani, Nicole Rabbani, Milagros Fraley, Tobin Fraley, Jennifer Juelich. Carl Fraley is behind Don. Photo: Tony Hicks

The family dropped roses across the grave, then gathered in a half circle. The deceased’s niece spoke somber and heartfelt words, while the hillside breeze blew through the nearby trees. It is a scene repeated all over the country, every day, when family members memorialize a loved one.

Only no one at this service met this loved one.

A new gravestone at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito is, finally, proof that Maurice Fraley existed. Maurice died as a toddler, decades before any of the small group of people around the small marker were born. Saturday morning, nearly a century after his death, Maurice was finally getting a proper farewell from his family.

Maurice wasn’t quite 2 years old on March 15, 1923, when he wandered away from his family’s Berkeley home on Allston Way, near Strawberry Creek. The Berkeley Gazette later reported he died in a shallow pool of water, about a foot-and-a-half deep. His family says he fell into the creek, at least that was always their understanding. Either way, it was a tragedy that affected his parents so profoundly that the baby’s existence was nearly wiped clean.

“It was a mystery,” said Tobin Fraley, 69, who came from his home in Illinois.

“My father wouldn’t talk about it,” said Fraley’s sister, Jennifer Juelich, 60. “He was supposed to have been at some family picnic and wandered off. Strawberry Creek ran out behind where they lived. I just thought it was very sad that not only was he not talked about, but he was also forgotten.”

Their father, was who Maurice’s younger brother and was born after his death, was also named Maurice, which Juelich said was due to her grandparents following a European tradition in naming their next child after a deceased child. Juelich’s grandmother, Gabrielle Fraley, was French, and married their American grandfather, Charles Fraley, after meeting him in Europe during World War I. They got married in Romania, then moved to Berkeley after the war. Charles attended UC Berkeley, then became a teacher and vice principal at Oakland Tech. He and his wife later opened an art gallery on College Avenue. They also restored and sold original carousel animals, some of which were on the Tilden Park merry-go-round during its 1970s restoration.

After their first Maurice died, the family moved on, literally and figuratively. They moved from Allston Way to a house on Webster Street in Berkeley and rarely mentioned the tragedy. The second Maurice Fraley was born at Alta Bates Hospital – with the real Alta Bates, a nurse and the hospital’s founder, in attendance — a year after his brother died. Maurice grew up and raised his own three children in Berkeley.

“It’s a past that we were not a part of, yet we’ve made that connection,” said Tobin Fraley. “If he lived, we would not be here. They would not have had another child.” He looked down at the grave. “We remember you, but we did not know you.”

Juelich dug into her family’s past in 1994 after her grandparents died. It turned out that her almost-forgotten uncle was buried near her grandmother at Sunset View Cemetery in El Cerrito. She asked someone at the cemetery’s front desk if there was a Maurice Fraley buried there. ‘It was strange because, again, it was my father’s name, who was still alive,” she said.

Juelich discovered her uncle was buried in Sunset View’s infant section. But he had no proper headstone, just a stone with a number. She took a map and began searching. She finally used a stick to dig up the original stone.

She did more research and discovered that the 1923 Berkeley Gazette article detailing the death of 18-month-old Maurice B. Fraley. The toddler, “fell into a stagnant pool of water near his home this forenoon and drowned,” read the article. It went on to say a neighbor who joined the search found the toddler. Police reportedly attempted to revive the boy with artificial respiration and it was later determined he’d been dead for about an hour.

When Juelich’s father, the second Maurice, died a few years ago, she and her brothers decided to use the burial money allocated to him from the U.S. Department of Veteran’s Affairs on a new grave marker for their uncle, since their father was already cremated. They ran it by the V.A., which had no objection. She ordered his death certificate to verify his official dates of birth and death and bought the headstone.

“If nothing else, there’s a sentimentality that runs through our DNA,” said Tobin.

Lana Rabbani by the headstone of her great great uncle Maurice Fraley. Photo: Tony Hicks
Gravestone for Maurice Fraley. Photo: Jennifer Juelich

On Saturday, as the family gathered to honor Maurice, Juelich’s 3-year-old granddaughter, Lana, played around the grave marker.

“There’s a little bit of irony here,” said Juelich’s daughter Nicole Rabbani. “Lana and I were talking about it on the way here. This is Lana’s first week of swim lessons. I tried explaining to her what happened to Maurice.”

Juelich handed out roses to her family, who took turns placing them on the marker. “I didn’t know you, but there you go,” said Carl Fraley, Juelich’s younger brother and a veteran of the Coast Guard, who was there with his wife, Milagros.

The family bought the marker about a year ago, but Tobin couldn’t get back to California until Saturday. In a photo she took of the marker a few days after it was laid, there’s a small print in the dirt next to it, which Juelich speculated came from a raccoon. Nonetheless, she said the small handprint touched her heart.

Juelich also has a photo of her uncle, her grandparents, and her great grandmother. On its back, someone wrote “In Golden Gate Park. Maurice’s last Sunday with his Papa, Mama and Grandma.”

Juelich said the inscription on the grave marker, a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien, references her uncle’s death.

“Not all who wander are lost.”

Tony Hicks is an East Bay native who spent 22 years working for Bay Area News Group, covering crime, education and the city of Berkeley. He also worked in the features department of the Contra Costa Times,...