Austintown residents recover motorcycle from flower bed

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Mary Smith, a Vindicator correspondent, was digging through the flower bed of her South Turner Road home in Austintown and found a motorcycle buried there. Apparently the former owners lost a son in a motorcycle accident and decided to bury the motorcycle. It has been there since 1961.

By Kalea Hall


The chrome on the German Zundapp motor-cycle is still shiny and gas is still in its tank, even though it has been buried for more than 50 years in the front flower bed of Richard and Mary Smith’s South Turner Road home.

“I would like to see it rebuilt,” Richard said.

Over the past 20 years of living on South Turner, the Smiths often were told by their neighbors that the motorcycle was buried there. A few weeks ago, the couple finally discovered the motorcycle while repairing their front steps.

The bike belonged to James Semko, who used to live in the Smiths’ home.

According to Vindicator files, 16-year-old James died after he was struck in an August 1961 accident at state Routes 18 and 534 near Lake Milton. James suffered a concussion and fractured feet. He died of bronchial pneumonia after the accident.

Bruce Cooper, the Smiths’ neighbor and once the Semkos’ neighbor, remembers when Barbara and Cyril Semko buried their son’s bike after his death.

“I told a lot of people and no one believed me,” Cooper said.

Why the bike was buried there is still sort of a mystery. The Smiths and their neighbors can only guess it was a way to “pay homage” to James, said Mary, a Vindicator correspondent.

“Who is to say what you would do?” Mary said.

The story behind the motorcycle grew deeper when the Smiths learned this was not the first tragic accident to strike the Semkos.

Not long after James’ death, the Semkos’ oldest son, 21-year-old airman Robert, was returning to his Panama City, Fla., base after his brother’s funeral when he was in a car accident, according to The Vindicator archives. Robert suffered a severe spinal-cord injury and a broken neck. He was paralyzed below the shoulders.

So what happened to the Semkos after these two tragic accidents?

Cooper said the father, Cyril, took his son to Las Vegas where he supposedly got married and made a life for himself. Cooper believes both Cyril and Robert have died, along with Barbara.

Now, what to do with the old motorcycle still buried in their flower garden is up to the Smiths. There is a red Zundapp emblem and trophies James must have won in races. Richard found a piece of an International Six Days trophy.

Rebuilding it is what James would probably want, Richard said.

Another option might be to just put it back where it belongs: the flower garden, Mary said.

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