Folly Beach — From long-lost high school rings to World War II mortar shells, treasures of all sorts have been found at area beaches over the years.
But the container that washed ashore on Sunday is probably one of the most unusual of all.
Around noon, first-year Charleston County lifeguard Ryan Laban, 16, was sitting in the last lifeguard chair on the washout side of the pier. Two teenagers brought him a sealed, brown plastic box about the size of a shoe box, and weighing around 5 pounds, that they had found in the surf.
A white sticker on the outside made it clear what — or rather, who — was inside: the remains of Lee Jackson Thompson, who was cremated at a Roanoke, Va., funeral home on June 2, 2010.
“I couldn’t open it, but I didn’t really want to try because I was afraid of what was in it,” Laban said. “I could tell that it had been in the water because it was kind of leaking.”
Laban gave the box to his supervisor, who gave it to his supervisor, and it eventually wound up in the office at the pier, where employees tried to contact the funeral home.
“It was very unusual, so we really didn’t know what to do with it,” said Emily Jackson, operations manager with the Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission.
With the help of David Williams, funeral director at Lotz Funeral Homes in Roanoke, the remains will once again be reunited with the family.
Williams said Wednesday it sounds as if Thompson’s ashes are still in the box. Remains are typically returned to families in a plastic box or in a plastic bag inside a cardboard box, he said.
“I can’t tell you how many families say they are going to take Mom to the beach or Dad to the beach,” he said. “Folks have these ideas and thoughts that cremated remains are like fireplace ashes, and they are not. They are not soft and they don’t billow away. They are gritty, sandy, heavy. They have substance to them.”
Sometimes, he said, families can’t or don’t know how to open the box and just toss the entire thing overboard.
“That’s probably what happened here, too,” he said.
Williams did not work for Lotz in 2010 but said records show the man, 48, died on May 28, 2010. A sister is listed as his next-of-kin.
Williams contacted the woman, who asked that her name not be used. She told him she plans to get the remains back.
“She was kind of laughing about it but said she was still in shock,” Williams said. “She sounded like a responsible person and she’ll see that the right thing is done. Mr. Thompson will finally be able to rest in peace somewhere.”
Reach Brenda Rindge at 937-5713 or facebook.com/brindge.