Thursday, September 24, 2009

Speakers for the Dead

I’m still alive, and the blog hasn’t been abandoned completely. 

Here’s a film to tide you over until the promised updates are ready.  Produced in Canada in 2000, it deals with the issues raised by the restoration of a Black cemetery. 

Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

So you want to be a researcher?

I stumbled across a site that’s not only a great reference for those new to research, it also tells the story of an 18th century herbalist/mid-wife.  The site is DoHistory.Org and it’s definitely worth a look.  A collaborative project by The Film Study Center at Harvard University and hosted by George Mason University, the History Toolkit on the site is chock-full of helpful information for researchers including information on how to search deeds and how to read a cemetery

In other news, more updates are coming soon, including the oft delayed photography tips! 

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Time Team America in New Philadelphia

The most recent episode of Time Team America, an episode on New Philadelphia in Illinois, includes a short (roughly 2 minutes) view of the historic cemetery associated with the town, and a short discussion of the cemetery. The town was the first planned and established by a free African American in the United States. The property was purchased and the town laid-out by "Free Frank" McWorter. He was able to purchase the freedom of his wife, himself, and some of his children from a slave owner in Kentucky, then moved north to start a new life. It's a great episode, the history is compelling and it's a great view into what archaeology is really like. PBS is launching a new online portal where you can view full episodes of some of their shows, including Time Team America, check it out here.

Check out the links above - the Time Team site has a more in depth history of the site and Free Frank. The cemetery was particularly fascinating, although the show didn't spend a lot of time on it. It was African American only and set slightly away from the town. They make a quick reference to how African American funeral rituals were culturally distinct and important, and touch on a few theories regarding cemeteries (particularly the association with flowing water). If you'd like to know more, here's a couple of books:

Passed on: African American Mourning Stories - includes a lot of 20th century material, but also includes discussions of earlier traditions. Thought provoking - I'd never really considered the effect segregation and racism had on burials, funeral customs, and the funeral industry as a whole in both the North and South.

The Afro-American Tradition in Decorative Arts - includes a short chapter on Vernacular or Folk grave markers, a great resource. Worth the price if you're interested in the field, but you might want to check it out in the library first. Vlach has produced several books on the subject, I don't think you'll go wrong with any of them as he seems a very solid scholar. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 17, 2009

Update on Mound in Oxford, Alabama

This morning I received an email from Dan Whisenhunt, a reporter with the Anniston Star letting me know that they broke the original story. I'd linked to the Birmingham News in my recent posts, but it appears they picked the story up off the AP wire from the Star. Usually when I'm not close enough to visit a site in person I attempt to find the newspaper for the town where the event happens or the closest large city - this technique let me down this time.

The Anniston Star has excellent coverage of this issue - they've been covering it extensively and doing what a news agency is supposed to do - finding out the facts concerned. So far they've uncovered the University of Alabama report on the site and associated letters, an article noting that supposedly the construction crews have orders to avoid the mound, an article on how taxpayer money was used for the destruction, and several others. Check out the links and site for more information. I apologize for missing the Anniston Star in the original round of posts, they have the most complete coverage of this story and I commend Dan Whisenhunt and the Anniston Star for the thoroughness of their research! Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, July 16, 2009

More from Oxford, Alabama

Oxford is a small town outside of Birmingham that is currently ripping down an ancient mound for cheap fill-dirt for a Sam's Club. The Birmingham news has reported on this issue, but apparently the city is now barring reporters from visiting the site according to rumors (guess that whole "First Amendment" thing was covered while the mayor et al were napping in high school). I stumbled across a blog post with a little more information. Apparently the city is claiming that the mound was "only used to send smoke signals". I'm honestly not sure what to say to that statement other than it's obvious they haven't had a survey of any sort done by a qualified individual. There is supposedly a mysterious survey done by "somebody at the University of Alabama" years ago, but a copy has yet to be produced. The story has made it to the iReporter site run by CNN

The greatest tragedy here is that there is no reason at all to destroy the mound. It is not in the way of construction - the city is just using it as a handy source of fill dirt, and hey if they happen to destory an irreplaceable part of local history too bad! In other areas of Alabama mounds such as this have been developed into parks and tourist sites - sure it' won't draw in millions of people a year, but it would draw a lot more people than the "spot where the mound used to be" will. That's what bothers me the most, this destruction is purposeless. It's akin to burning down a library just because it's there - it serves no good purpose and you lose so much. I actually travel through Oxford a few times each year when I visit my parents, by the time I travel through next the mound will most likely be gone.

Edit: This story was originally covered by the Anniston Star, see this post for more information. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Grave News: Oxford, AL using grave dirt to level Sam's Club parking lot

I'm not sure how they thought they'd slip this under the radar, but apparently the City of Oxford, Alabama and WalMart Stores, Inc are working together to destory a 1500 year old piece of history. The history in question is a large ceremonial mound (which likely contains human remains) that is being destroyed to provide fill dirt for a Sam's club parking lot. A local blogger has been covering the story here and here.

Now, I realize we cannot save every single site for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the land is needed, sometimes the site is in danger from natural forces, etc. In this case - none of that seems to apply. It's not that the Sam's Club is being built where the mound was, or that it was the only spot available. No, it seems that the city has taken it upon itself to destroy an ancient monument for cheap fill dirt. Think on that for a minute - irreplaceable history needlessly destroyed for nothing more than a bit of convience. Surely there are other sources of fill dirt in the area? Why isn't Walmart Stores, Inc stepping in to stop this destruction on their behalf? There's a lot of unanswered questions in this. I can say Wal-Mart/Sam's has moved even further down on my list of stores where I shop! Wonder if they're going to dynamite the veteran's monuments in town for gravel to pave the parking lot while they're at it?

Edit: More information and links to the Anniston Star, the newspaper which originally broke the story, here. Sphere: Related Content

Archaeology - Time Team America and more

I've mentioned in several posts I'm working on a graduate degree in Anthropology, specialing in historic archaeology. I've tried to keep this blog focused more on cemeteries and cemetery study, but every once in a while I have to go back to my roots academically. This is one of those days where I'll take a slight digression from the topic of cemeteries and talk about a new TV show featuring archaeologists and some other resources that describe exactly what an archaeologist does and how you become an archaeologist.
People don't seem to know what archaeologists do or how you become an archaeologist. Just like in any other profession you'll find a myriad of reasons people give, with one exception. I've never met anyone who said they became an archaeologist to get rich - just like historians, non-profit employees of all sorts, biologists, geologists, librarians, and many other fields you won't get rich. You can make a living, but that's it. On the other hand, well, very few other jobs have the combination of discovery, science, history, and storytelling we have on a daily basis! We very, very, rarely find "treasure" of the glittering sort and no, we don't keep the stuff we find (whether trash or treasure, it still tells us something).
So, the TV show - PBS has launched a new TV series, Time Team America. The first episode aired last week, or you can find it on the web-site if you missed it. The second episode airs tonight - and it's a good one. If you're interested in how humans got to North America this is the episode to see!
The Time Team America website also has a great introduction to archaeology as a career - how do you become an archaeologists, what types are there, and what they do. Check out the videos at the bottom of the page, particularly the "So You Want to be an Archaeologist" video! Another great resource is the page on archaeology - it's maintained by an archaeologist, and on it you'll find links to everything you'd want to know, including digs you can volunteer at. Kris Hirst, who maintains the page, also has an archaeology related blog. Most states have an archaeology association and they usually sponsor volunteer digs where you can go through a mini-fieldschool and get your hands dirty. In addition the USDA Forest Service offers their Passport in Time program - lots of volunteer opportunities.

There are lots of books out there related to archaeology in general, specific projects, and topics within archaeology. The book that really got me into archaeology is In Small Things Forgotten: An Archaeology of Early American Life. This is a classic, and while some of the things presented have been refined and revised, it's still an excellent introductory text. The author, James Deetz, died a few years ago - I regret that I never met him in person. He's an excellent writer and makes the subject interesting and approachable even if you don't know anything about archaeology. Adrian Praetzellis has written two excellent introductory texts disguised as murder mysteries, Death by Theory and Dug to Death - not bad little reads, just keep in mind they're introductory texts. If you'd like something with a more nautical bent check out X Marks the Spot: The Archaeology of Piracy. Ivor Noel Hume is a well known figure in Historical Archaeology, Martin's Hundred is a good introduction to his work. The recently published Jamestown, the Buried Truthlooks like a good read as well, if you'd like to hear how a project began. You can find a list of additional books here.

As far as this blog goes: I am working on a series of posts about photographing graves and cemeteries, including equipment and techniques. I have some other topics in mind, including more on moving cemeteries, preservation (shaving cream bad!), and whatever else I can come up with. If there's something you have a question about - whether it's related to cemeteries or to archaeology (or both), write in and let me know. You can leave a comment or email me through this page, either works. It may take me a while to get back to you, but I do eventually reply! Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Cemetery Regulation

Time magazine has a very well written and presented article on the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal. One part stands out, the question of what lessons should we take from these events:

What lessons should be gleaned from this case? Paramount is the need for regulation that the death industry has fiercely resisted. Tom Dart, the sheriff of Cook County, which includes Chicago and Alsip, observes that manicurists and barbers must endure more regulatory hurdles than most cemetery operators, including its managers and groundskeepers. Illinois, like many states, is empowered to protect only the money families invest in burial lots — fees intended for cemeteries' long-term maintenance. In many states, there is no single agency, government or independent, that keeps up-to-date records of how many human bodies are buried or cremated on a cemetery's grounds, or the names of the buried.

I agree, for the most part. Generally I have mixed feelings on on government oversight, it seems that all too often it adds significant taxpayer expense for no apparent benefit (the recent banking meltdown is a prime example of ineffectual oversight, for example). In addition, this is frankly a lousy time to add to the regulatory workload of most states since they're already struggling to make ends meet fiscally! Still, as the Time article points out in many states a barber has to jump through more regulatory hurdles than a cemetery, even though the cemetery is promising its services will last far longer than a barber's.

Generally the funeral services industry has been resistent to regulation. The various organizations which make up the industry have relatively strong lobbyists and the industry as a whole is very profitable. Unfortunately this makes for a situation ripe for mismanagement and sorrow, like at Burr Oaks. The only option may be a strong state regulatory arm unless the funeral services industry as a whole shows itself willing and, more importantly, able to police themselves. In the Burr Oaks case alone there are multiple failures highlighted, including:

lack of oversight - there are no checks in the system of cemetery record keeping. I'm sure there is plenty of oversight in managing the financial matters, but that is not enough. One person should not have sole, unfettered, access to the cemetery records - in an age of cheap copiers, scanners, and computers there is no excuse.

lack of foresight - tying in to the lack of oversight, there appears to be no planning for disaster. Even without nefarious action by the only employee tasked with maintaining and overseeing the records they could be damaged or destroyed by any number of forces including a fire in the building, floods, even insect damage! Once again, there is no excuse for not having copies of the records off-site, whether in an environmentally controlled storage unit, corporate headquarters, or a server somewhere.

A well thought out regulatory body, whether governmental or industry based, would be able to serve not only as a force to enforce laws and regulations, but also as a repository for cemetery records. Such records are invaluable not only for family who may be seeking the grave of a loved one, but also for geneologists, historians, and statisticians. Of course, such a body would also oversee cremations and require similar records - date of cremation, name/location of facility, etc.

Now, as I've mentioned many times previously, the focus of this blog is more on history and preservation rather than legislation. I'm not a part of the funeral industry. Personally I feel that there is room for much improvement, but as a whole most people involved in the industry are there to try to do their best for grieving families. In a case like Burr Oaks there is plenty of blame to go around - as I mentioned earlier some of the comments on the Chicago area news sites indicate that there had been complaints filed about the cemetery that were never followed up. The lack of a single authority makes it very difficult for families to find who to contact and for local authorities to act. When the local law enforcement are deciding how to best use their limited resources, enforcement of cemetery regulation is going to be low on the risk because a) most of the time there is no immediate danger to life and b) they may not know if they are allowed to enforce those regulations! All in all, some sort of reform seems to be needed. A good start would be for the various parts of the industry - funeral directions, cemeteries, and others to work out an industry regulatory body that works - it'd save the states a lot of trouble. Sphere: Related Content

More on Burr Oak

CNN and the Chicago Tribunal have further details on this case. The sheriff's office has declared the entire cemetery a crime scene and the cemetery is closed to further burials at this time. Disturbingly, the Chicago Tribunal is reporting that "Babyland", an area set aside for infant burials, is either completely missing or many burials are missing. Lawsuits have been filed against the company that holds the cemetery, Perpetua LLC. Businessweek has the following descrition of Perpetua:

Company Overview

Perpetua, Inc. operates as a funeral home and cemetery acquisition/development company. It specializes in the areas of personalized funerals and the use of technology in the death care industry. The company owns and operates funeral homes and cemeteries in New York, Indiana, Missouri, and Illinois. Perpetua is based in Tuscon, Arizona.

To their credit, they do appear to have been one of the parties who contacted the sheriff regarding the removal of bodies from plots. They do not seem to follow good business practices in several other way though - for example, it appears that many of the records are missing or destroyed. Why were there no off-site copies of the records? There appears to have been no oversight or auditing process of the local cemetery records beyond finances. Cases such as the Tri-State Crematory in Georgia and now Burr Hill highlight the need for independent oversight and inspection, the same sort of oversight seen in many other industries.

There are rumors in the comments on some of the Chicago-area news sites that families had noticed the missing gravestones and disturbed graves and had filed complaints with the various authorities in charge of cemeteries in the area with no results. Hopefully they'll go to the press and push for their stories to be heard.

Update: 10:20 PM EST 7-11-2009

CNN is continuing to follow the story on their front page
, they've caught up with some of the local Chicago news outlets in reporting about "Babyland". I'll keep on following this story but I'm not going to do more than one update per day unless something happens that warrants it. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, July 10, 2009

More from Alsip, Illinois (update on Scam and Scandal in Illinois)

Update on yesterday's post: CNN is reporting that police have arrested Carolyn Towns, Keith Nicks, Terrance Nicks and Maurice Daley. The count of disturbed graves is up to 300 and families coming to the cemetery to check on their loved ones graves. Some families have visited graves only to find a new headstone with a different name in place. CNN also reports that Emmet Till's original coffin has been found at the graveyard in a storage building, however, he was buried in a new coffin following a 2005 exhumation. CNN's headline is a little misleading, it doesn't appear that his grave has been disturbed since 2005. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Grave News: Scam and Scandal in Illinois

The Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, has been the victim of grave-robbing employees.  In a scheme that involved selling lots for cash under the table, bodies were removed from unmarked and seldom visited graves, dumped at the back of the property, and the plots re-sold.  The story is covered in the Chicago Sun Times, Lalate News, and even the BBC.  According to these sources as many as 100 bodies may have been removed in order to re-sell the plots.  Burr Oak is the first African American cemetery in Chicago.  It seems to be owned privately and the actual owners aren’t implicated in this particular scandal but are being heavily criticized for extreme lack in oversight of the cemetery.  Apparently 5 employees have been arrested at this point, including one who appears to have effectively had sole access to the cemetery records.  This individual has apparently destroyed records in an effort to hide the illegal activities – which spanned 4 years. 

Unfortunately, cemetery regulation seems to regularly get particularly short shift.  Admittedly most states are facing tough times right now, and inspection of burial places, crematoriums, and other facilities aren’t high on the priority list, but is an inspection of some sort every 3-5 years really out of the question? 

If you have loved ones buried in a cemetery where you suspect the management is…lacking, your options may be limited.   Unless it’s gross violation of laws, such as illegally disinterring bodies and dumping them at the back of the cemetery, it may be difficult to get anyone to take notice.  Your best bet is to document as much as you can, for examples if monuments are being damaged through neglect take pictures and show the damage over time then contact the management.  If that doesn’t work contact local and state authorities.  If that doesn’t work it’s time to start pestering a local journalist – whether print or TV.  Be persistent, but polite, and you may be able to get results. 

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, June 12, 2009

When even the bad can do some good...

A friend of mine sent this link to me:  Rich History in One Jackson Cemetery.  It's a video produced by WAPT in Jackson about damage to Greenwood Cemetery in Jackson and the attention that's been brought to the cemetery as a result.  This cemetery contains the grave of several former governors, luminaries such as Eudora Welty, and many others.  It seems a large tree fell in the cemetery, causing damage to several markers including one photographed by Eudora Welty (who was a photographer for the Works Progress Administration prior to taking up a pen).  The damage is unfortunate, but a positive side effect has been increased publicity for the cemetery.  It's a an interesting video, they chose to follow a geneologer through the cemetery and record some of his thoughts. 

If you're reading this blog, odds are you in interested in some facet of cemeteries - either as geneological resources, historic sites, or cultural phenomena.  There's an old adage that "any coverage is good coverage", and while you can certainly debate the truth of that, keep it in mind whenever you're working with old cemeteries - even an event such as a tree falling can be used to bring publicity (and hopefully much-needed preservation funds). 

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

British Cemetery

The updates have been slow in coming, I know.  The thesis is still consuming most of my time.  I did take a day off this past Saturday to drive to Ocracoke.   I wanted to check out some of the lighthouses and, of course, cemeteries along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  It was a nice trip, certainly worth the time!  While I was in Ocracoke I stopped by the British Cemetery.

The cemetery is both a cemetery, containing the remains of 4 British sailors, and a memorial to the crew of the HMT Bedfordshire. 

The Bedfordshire was an anti-submarine trawler on loan to the United States and tasked with patrolling the coast in order to stop submarine attacks.  She was sunk by a German submarine off Ocracoke Island.  4 bodies washed ashore and were recovered by the residents of the island.  Two bodies were identified, the other two remain unidentified to this day.  They were buried in a small plot of land.  In honor of their sacrifice, a lease for the plot was given to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission so the sailors would be in a British Cemetery.  The cemetery was originally maintained by the people of Ocracoke Village, and is now maintained by the US Coast Guard Ocracoke Station.  A small plaque on the site bears a few lines from a poem by British poet Rupert Brooke:

If I should die think only this of me
that there's some corner of a foreign field
that is forever England

If you are in the area, pay the cemetery a visit.  It’s located off a side street, and there is a small parking lot.  There are a few more photos on flickr.  It’s past Memorial Day, but check out the memorials and cemeteries in your area.  These sites not only memorialize the fallen, they also reveal how those who erected the monuments wanted the dead to be remembered. 

Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Saddest Acre

CNN has an article up this Memorial Day weekend about Section 60, sometimes called “The Saddest Acre”.  You should go read it.  

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Sunday, May 10, 2009

Regular updates will now resume.

I apologize for the 2 week hiatus, the end of the semester is incredibly hectic.  I survived finals, and I should be able to post on a regular schedule again.   I'll be adding a new article in the next couple of days, so keep an eye out.  I've still been getting regular hits on this page - thanks to all the regular readers who haven't given up on Cemetery Space! 

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Friday, April 24, 2009

Cemeteries and the National Register of Historic Places

I suspect that anyone who reads this blog is familiar with the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), but I’m going to give a brief overview before delving into the subject of NRHP eligibility for cemeteries.
The NRHP was created by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Under this act, the Park Service was charged with maintaining a register of properties of historic significance. All nominations are done through the state’s State Historic Preservation Officer (SHPO) except in cases of federal land/projects and/or tribal land. I’m not going to go into details of nomination; it can be a long process. For an actual nomination you might consider hiring a professional. However, if you’d rather go through the process yourself a good place to start is the National Register Fundamentals page on the NHRP website.

In this post I’m going to cover the criteria that determine if a cemetery is eligible for nomination to the National Register. Cemeteries are a category of sites that are specifically excluded from eligibility except in certain cases. This isn’t due to some sort of secret anti-cemetery cabal in the Park Service (at least, I’m pretty sure it isn’t…) – it’s due to the practical reason that cemeteries are normally well protected by state and local laws and have significant cultural, familial, and personal ties that can make objective analysis difficult. Let me go ahead and say – if your favorite cemetery isn’t eligible for the National Register don’t assume its doomed, odds are there are state and local laws that protect it to some degree (probably as much as being listed on the National Register does, anyway).

I’m going to be drawing my information from the National Register Bulletin #41: Guidelines for Evaluating and Registering Cemeteries and Burial Places. and Listing a Property. I’ll condense a few key points from these bulletins, if you’re interested in nominating a cemetery check the links above for more information regarding this process.

Any property (cemetery or otherwise) nominated for the National Register must have maintained its historic integrity and must meet one of the four significance criteria:

Criterion A: Properties can be eligible for the National Register if they are associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of our history.

Criterion B: Properties may be eligible for the National Register if they are associated with the lives of persons significant in our past.

Criterion C: Properties may be eligible for the National Register if they embody the distinctive characteristics of a type, period, or method of construction, or that represent the work of a master, or that possess high artistic values, or that represent a significant and distinguishable entity whose components may lack individual distinction.

Criterion D: Properties may be eligible for the National Register if they have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history.

Further, there are special considerations that must be taken in to account, known as Criteria Considerations:

a. A religious property deriving primary significance from architectural or artistic distinction or historical importance; or
b. A building or structure removed from its original location but which is primarily significant for architectural value, or which is the surviving structure most importantly associated with a historic person or event; or
c. A birthplace or grave of a historical figure of outstanding importance if there is no appropriate site or building directly associated with his or her productive life; or
d. A cemetery which derives its primary importance from graves of persons of transcendent importance, from age, from distinctive design features, or from association with historic events; or
e. A reconstructed building when accurately executed in a suitable environment and presented in a dignified manner as part of a restoration master plan, and when no other building or structure with the same association has survived; or
f. A property primarily commemorative in intent if design, age, tradition, or symbolic value has invested it with its own exceptional significance; or
g. A property achieving significance within the past 50 years if it is of exceptional importance.

What does all that mean for a cemetery?

1. It must have historic integrity, with “historic” being generally defined as “greater than 50 years old” for the purposes of the NRHP. This means that if the cemetery has been moved it is probably no longer eligible. I say “probably” because there is some flexibility, for example, a cemetery established in 1720, with burials moved in 1770, and which continued in use for a significant period of time after the move could still be eligible. If the cemetery was moved in the last 50 years, however, it’s likely not eligible as it arguably has no historic integrity.
2. It must be significant, as defined by the 4 criteria: A, B, C, and D. In the case of a cemetery, Criteria D requires no additional special considerations and refers to a cemetery "having yielded or having the potential to yield important information in prehistory or history”. This if often interpreted as being archaeologically important, for example, a slave cemetery might yield information regarding the diet, health, and burial customs of a group with little written documentation; but it is not limited to only excavation, a study of material culture in the form of grave offerings visible on the surface could meet Criteria D. There’s a lot of room here, but to further meet this criteria generally there must be a research plan that lays out exactly what information the cemetery is likely to yield and how it will be recovered. Archaeological investigation does not automatically disqualify a site for listing, by the way.
Criterion A , B, and C require a little more documentation. Criterion A may seem a little confusing at first glance, but a classic example is a burial ground used for burial of dead soldiers during or immediately after the battle on a Civil War Battlefield. There are other examples that can meet this criteria, though, such as a cemetery dating to the early days of settlement of an area that was in use for a significant period. In such a case the cemetery could show changes in burial customs across a broad pattern of local history. The NRHP Bulletin #41 referenced above provides many other examples.
Criterion B is straightforward, with the exception that a burial or cemetery must meet Criterion Consideration c. Basically, the cemetery (or birthplace) must be the only surviving structure/site associated with the individual. The grave of William Faulkner, for example, would not be eligible under Consideration c because the house where he wrote many of his novels, Rowan Oak, is maintained as a National Register property. However, the grave might be eligible under other criteria. The main exception to this Consideration is if the grave is being nominated as part of a historic property – for example, if Faulkner were buried in the back yard of Rowan Oak, protection would be extended to the grave as part of the property’s nomination.
Criterion C covers architectural details, assemblages of distinctive markers, and similar attributes. Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans is an example of one that would qualify under Criterion C, as it represents a particular architectural style and contains the works of a locally known master designer. It would also need to meet Criterion Consideration d.

There’s a good bit more detail to the Criteria Considerations – I recommend you read NHRP Bulletin #41 in its entirety if you want to know more. It’s not the most entertaining read, but it does a good job of laying out the criteria and providing examples for each case.

There’s also a “shortcut” (although it’s not, really, the process is more work) in that if a cemetery is nominated as part of a National Historic District then the Criteria Consideration no longer apply, however, the requirements for nominating a district make the process more involved than a single property nomination and, as such, it’s way beyond the scope of this post!

Finally, like I mentioned earlier, don’t be afraid to talk to specialists. You can hire a specialist (archaeologist, anthropologist, historian, historic architect, etc depending on what you’re nominating) to do the entire process, or you could hire them as a consultant to do a specific part (identify the artistic and architecturally significant components of a cemetery). You are not required to be a professional to submit a nomination, however! If you are willing to put in the time and legwork to research a property and educate yourself on the process you can do the nomination yourself – any US citizen has the right to nominate a property. There are resources available to help you – check out the local SHPO (State Historic Preservation Office, remember), they may have resources available. Keep in mind that the SHPO are often very overworked – they wear many hats in a lot of cases, including state archaeologist, SHPO, and a host of others. In addition, they are not there to do the nomination for you, it’s not in their job description, I promise. They can point you in the right direction though. You can find a list of SHPO offices here.

There's a lot involved in making NRHP nominations, I've tried to cover the basics here. In a nutshell:

- if the cemetery is a small family plot it's less likely to be eligible, although not impossible. It might have an example of a rare marker, for example, which would give it stylistic significance.
- if the cemetery is modern, founded w/in the past 50 years, it's probably not eligible.
- if it's a larger cemetery in use for a long period, there's better odds of eligibility, as it may meet several criteria
- if it is attached to a NRHP eligible property it is automatically eligible, although check the special criteria for religious properties for churches and churchyards!

That’s a brief overview of the criteria that determine if a cemetery is eligible, I hope you found it helpful. One other resource you might consider if you are looking at nominating a cemetery is your local historical society and genealogical society. Between the two they can probably tell you if anybody of significant historical importance is buried there, the dates of the cemetery itself, and they may have contacts with professionals you can make use of. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Time Team America Preview

PBS has posted a preview (seems to be the first episode) of the new Time Team America series. It will premier on PBS in July but you can see a sneak preview on the PBS site!

It's not exactly cemetery related, but I know some of the archaeologists on the show, so I'm excited to see it do well. Check it out! The British version of the show has looked at burial grounds in the past, so you might see some cemetery and mortuary themed episodes on the American version (although the laws a little different here). Sphere: Related Content

Monday, April 20, 2009

Cemetery Sunday delayed

School and work commitments have taken over my life right now - posts will probably be more spread out that usual. I should be back to a normal schedule in a couple of weeks! Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Grave News: Vet's Headstones Used to Build Patio

In Nevada, veterans are upset with the news that a cemetery employee used headstones to pave his patio. The headstones were "retired" stones that had incorrect information or had been replaced for other reasons, so it's not quite like he was secretly stealing stones directly from the graves. Still, given the symbolism attached to Veteran's markers, it wasn't a good idea. It does bring up a question - what do you do with a headstone that's been replaced? In one of my previous posts I talked about the headstones of Civil War soldiers that were being replaced in Durham. I'm not sure what is being done with the replaced stones there, but I hope a few of them find their way to local museums and/or the state archives since they do have some historical significance. The headstones at the cemetery in Nevada are a different matter as they're modern stones. Perhaps following the tradition of American flags would be best - they could be reduced to gravel with due ceremony and the gravel used in the cemetery, or kept intact and put to some other useful purpose within the cemetery, one which provide a more honorable retirement than a patio.

Every day on my walk to campus I see a lone footstone. I can only pray that it was replaced by the family and not one that was stolen or illegally removed from some family plot - it's not uncommon for land owners to try to hide the presence of cemeteries when land is being sold to developers (and lots of developers are apparently very lax about researching the history of the land they're buying), and one way of "hiding" a cemetery is secretly removing all the markers and making sure they wind up far away. Here's a photo:

Stepping Stone

When you're out and about on your own wanderings, keep an eye out for orphaned stones like this. They turn up in unexpected places (I remember reading about one that served as the pastry counter in a suburban house - the flat side was used for rolling out doughs and the carvings were used as molds for decorative elements) at unexpected times. That strangely shaped piece of marble at the edge of a flower bed might be more than just a decorative touch... Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Grave News: Emails from the dead.

Almost 10 years ago, Peter Fenton wrote an article about the emerging phenomena of "emails from the dead", in which individuals reported receiving emails from loved ones, apparently written after their death and full of intimate details. Generally these were linked to glitches in mail delivery (mail is queued but not sent, then a relative logs on the computer, dials the internet, and out goes the messages).
10 years later, and there's a couple of companies basing their business model on email from the dead. and will send an email once you've shuffled off this mortal coil. You write the email and give them a list of addresses and that's it. One service relies on you failing to respond to an email for pre-set amount of time to detect if you're dead, the other relies on you having made arrangements with a family member to log in and hit send. Either way, there's potential for mistakes, but it's an interesting idea - a 21st century twist on the age old "leave a diary/letter/video for my kids/friends/loved ones".

I think the diary is a better idea though. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Cemetery Sunday: St. James grave yard in Wilmington, NC

I've had less time to write new posts for the blog - this is a very late "Cemetery Sunday", in a few more weeks hopefully I'll have more time I hope. Anyway, today's cemetery is attached to the St. James Episcopal Church in Wilmington, NC. It's one of the older grave yards in the area, with graves dating to the 18th century. Unfortunately when I got there they had just locked the gate, so I had to make use of a zoom lens and try to get decent shots. Here's the church's historic marker:


Here's a couple of interesting headstones:


This particular cemetery has a ghost story associated with it. It seems that a young man, Alexander, and his friend, Samuel, were constant companions. During an outing, Samuel was thrown from his horse and pronounced dead. He was duly buried with the proper ceremony and the heartbroken Alexander sat in his chamber that night, overwhelmed with grief. Suddenly he noticed a figure standing beside the fear. He called, and the figure turned - it was none other than Samuel! "Alexander, I am not dead! You must dig me up!", cried the specter. Alexander yelled out and the specter vanished. For three nights this continued. Finally, Alexander gained permission to exhume his friends body - granted, but only after he promised to keep the deed secret so as not to attract curiosity seekers. Around midnight, Alexander and another young man dug up Samuel's coffin and discovered to their horror that the satin lining of the coffin was in bloody tatters, and the body of Samuel lay with his fingers bloodied, face down, his face contorted in a grimace of absolute horror. Wilmington has its share of ghost stories, and the cemetery looks the part, with the trees covered by Spanish Moss and the old slate and marble stones.


The cemetery is home to the mortal remains of soldiers, politicians, bishops, and townfolk. In addition there are headstones made of slate, marble, and what appears to be brown New England sandstone (a rarity in North Carolina). It's certainly worth a visit if you're in Wilmington! Here's some more pictures from the cemetery to close out this post:


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Thursday, April 9, 2009

Cemetery Relocations: What do you do with the evicted dead?

In the last post, I touched on the topic of cemetery relocations. This is something that doesn't seem to cross most people's mind unless they have relatives in a cemetery which is being relocated (or they're a cemetery researcher and/or work for a Cultural Resource Management firm). Usually a cemetery is relocated because it is endangered by natural forces (erosion, flooding, etc) or by construction of some sort. The reason for moving the cemetery is an important consideration in whether approval will be given. I'll talk about that a little later in this post though. The laws governing cemetery relocation vary by state, county, and even city so it's impossible to give a full overview here. Generally state laws govern cemetery relocation and protection, but there may be local county or city level ordinances as well. I'll try to outline the general process, but I'm not a lawyer nor do I have experience with cemetery relocations outside of North Carolina.

Generally, in order to relocate a cemetery, one must meet the state qualifications which often include archaeological training. For example, in North Carolina a cemetery can only be relocated under the supervision of a qualified archaeologist with a graduate degree and experience or a funeral director. There are numerous Cultural Resource Management (CRM) companies that provide cemetery mapping, surveying, and relocation services. The first steps include researching the history of the cemetery and notifying family members. Usually notification is done through the local media, including newspapers and television. You can see an example of a notice here. If there are no objections to the move, or if an agreement can be reached, the process moves on to the next step, which is locating the extent of the cemetery and identifying all the graves. This process can involve multiple techniques ranging from probing the ground with a metal rod (used to detect changes in soil density) to ground penetrating radar. The techniques are used to help define the area in which graves are likely to be located, but the only way to positively identify graves is through excavation. Generally this involves mechanically stripping the topsoil to locate the grave shafts. Once the grave shafts are identified, they can be excavated. The remains are usually placed in new caskets of some sort (which can range from simple wooden boxes to elaborately carved mortuary containers) and removed for re-interment at a new cemetery.

At least that's the ideal. Sometimes less reputable contractors take advantage of state minimum requirements to do the minimum of work. For example, at one point in North Carolina the minimum required to move a grave was to remove a prescribed volume of earth from a prescribed depth (usually 1 foot of earth at a certain depth). Sometimes dishonest contractors would simply scoop up a cubic foot of earth with a backhoe, box it, and send it off to be reburied, leaving the bulk of the remains in the ground. As a result the laws were tightened in North Carolina. If you're a developer, I'd recommend spending the money on a good, reliable, firm to handle your grave relocation - it is always bad PR when skeletons start turning up in the flower beds.

The physical part of the process requires skill and experience, but isn't as complex as the legal and cultural issues. Moving a cemetery is not something to be done lightly, it upsets the community, makes people uncomfortable, and can open old hurts in a community. There are many examples of proposed and attempted relocations that have resulted in controversy on the local and national level. On the national level, the African Burial Ground project in New York is an example of the controversy that can arise. On the local level cemetery relocations can cause controversy. The project I was involved with locally involved moving a relatively small cemetery to make room for a new dental school to serve the region. There were concerns because of the limited information on the cemetery - there were only two surviving grave markers, for example. The issue was especially sensitive as the cemetery is an African American one, and thus a sensitive subject in the South. The company which was hired to oversee the relocation was a good one though, and was able to work with the community, the school, and the city council to ensure that all concerns were met. There were even some good side-effects to the relocation - the original cemetery was poorly marked and heavily overgrown. Once the relocation was completed family members were able to visit the graves of their relatives and all identifiable individuals were memorialized on a common marker. You can read more about that project here.

Earlier I mentioned that the reason for the relocation can have a lot to do with whether approval will be granted and with the support a relocation receives in general. In the case of the project I was involved with, the reason for the relocation of the cemetery was to build a dental school - this area is under-served by dental health practitioners, and having a local school will help to alleviate that issue. In other cases road construction and flood control can be reasons for moving a cemetery. But what about when a cemetery is to be relocated just to make way for a new shopping center? Even in that case, with the approval of the family and the community, you can argue that the jobs might make it worthwhile. What about if it's just an individual who wants to build a house though? That's when you start to get on shaky ground, especially when, well, you own over a hundred acres and still insist on plopping a house down right on top of the cemetery.

Every cemetery can't be saved, and each case has to be evaluated on historic grounds, family approval, and good to the community. As you can probably tell, I do strongly feel that the descendants have rights no matter who owns the land. It seems that many states feel the same way and have some provisions codified in law. I have to balance this with a sense of preservation though - too many landowners decide they'll just avoid the hassle by removing any grave markers and plowing up the area to destroy any evidence of graves. It has happens, it continues to happen, and it's difficult to prosecute. The best way to prevent that sort of destruction is to instill a respect for the dead at the community and local level. With relocation a viable option, maybe there will be less destruction of burial grounds. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Photos of Elkhorn Cemetery and Elkhorn

Courtesy of MsAmazon2u on youtube, here's some more shots of Elkhorn, Montana and the Elkhorn Cemetery.

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Mental Hospitals, Asylums, and Cemeteries

I came across an article in the Tacoma Daily Index today that describes the efforts of the Grave Concerns Association to replace the numbered stone grave markers in the hospital cemetery with markers showing the name of the deceased along with birth and death dates. The cemetery contains the remains of more than 3,200 psychiatric patients, buried between 1876 and 1953. The Association is working to restore the cemetery and replace all the numbered markers with named ones. 50 markers are being installed as part of the "Dignity for 50" effort.

Unmarked graves, or graves marked only by a number, were the norm at psychiatric facilities (asylums, mental hospitals, etc) throughout the 19th and a large part of the 20th century. I was involved in a project to survey a local cemetery for additional unmarked graves in the earliest section of a cemetery associated with a mental health facility. The facility is still active, although burials are now marked by a standard flush-set stone marker showing the individuals name. The use of numbered markers has been explained as a way of avoiding the stigma of of having a family member in such a facility. Usually the facilities maintain a map and an index which is accessible to family members so they may visit the gravesite if they wish. Keep in mind, however, that depending on the time period and the area, sometimes one could be sent to such an institution because there was no where else to go - they served as "catch alls" for the homeless and elderly with no family.

By the middle of the 20th century the use of numbered graves was beginning to change, from what I've been able to find out. It may not have completely vanished - it's not a widely studied topic - but it's certainly becoming the exception rather than the rule. Many state psychiatric hospitals have closed, leaving behind massive graveyards and limited documentation. This becomes a problem if and when the land is sold off for development - relocating large cemeteries is difficult and expensive. The cemeteries aren't always abandoned when the hospital moves on, fortunately, as you can see on the site of a fellow Graveyard Rabbit Grave Addiction where you will find photos and history of the Columbus Ohio mental hospital cemeteries.

Efforts such as that of the Grave Concerns Association not only provide a fitting memorial for those who were segregated from mainstream society in both life and death, they serve as a visible, concrete, statement about the changing attitudes towards mental health care in this country. Hopefully it will also provide a little closure and comfort for families who may have had loved one's graves lost among the tangle of numbered stone. Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Cemetery Sunday: Elkhorn Cemetery, Montana (plus a bonus)

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 was signed into law last week by President Obama. This large bill includes over 160 individual proposals affecting federal land in 9 states. Out of curiosity I pulled up the PDF version and scanned for a few keywords. "Grave" returned nothing of interest other than noting that protection of paleontological resources does not extend to those at Native American burial grounds and cemeteries in general (they're already protected under other legislation). A search for "cemetery" turned up something interesting:

(1) CONVEYANCE.—Not later than 180 days after the date
of enactment of this Act and subject to valid existing rights,
the Secretary (acting through the Regional Forester, Northern
Region, Missoula, Montana) shall convey by quitclaim deed
H. R. 146—141
to the County for no consideration, all right, title, and interest
of the United States, except as provided in paragraph (5),
in and to the parcel of land described in paragraph (2).

(2) DESCRIPTION OF LAND.—The parcel of land referred
to in paragraph (1) is the parcel of approximately 9.67 acres
of National Forest System land (including any improvements
to the land) in the County that is known as the ‘‘Elkhorn
Cemetery’’, as generally depicted on the map.
(3) USE OF LAND.—As a condition of the conveyance under
paragraph (1), the County shall—
(A) use the land described in paragraph (2) as a County
cemetery; and
(B) agree to manage the cemetery with due consideration
and protection for the historic and cultural values
of the cemetery, under such terms and conditions as are
agreed to by the Secretary and the County.

This is an unusual provision in a bill, and I wondered what the backstory was. A quick Google search later I had my answer: apparently, due to "limited information and surveying errors in the early 1900's" the cemetery was included as part of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. This was unfortunate for local residents who continue to bury family members there, as the National Park Service discourages burials on its lands.

A local newspaper, The Helena Independent Record, has a couple of stories on the local cemetery and the residents' fight to regain the legal ownership of the cemetery. One local resident, John Bell, began a letter-writing campaign in 1992 so that his family would no longer have to go through the troubles he had in burying his father and son in the cemetery.
The cemetery is small, containing 38 known burials, although up to 150 individuals may be buried there, dates back to the early days of American settlement in the area, and is still used by many local families - clandestinely. Officially the Park Service forbids burials, fortunately, the local rangers seem to have been taking an "if we don't see it then it didn't happen" attitude towards families burying their dead there. At long last, once the paperwork goes through for the title transfer, the county will legally own the cemetery. The plan seems to be to turn control of the cemetery over to a 3 person cemetery board, which is planning on limiting burials in the old section of the cemetery to avoid disturbing burials and limiting burials to those who are related to individuals already interred in the cemetery as it has very limited space. Hand-dug graves continue to be the norm as mechanical digging is too likely to disturb any unmarked graves before they are recognized. Also, lest anybody be upset that the land was passed over by the federal government without the county paying for it: the county has spent over $10,000 for surveying and other services related to reclaiming the cemetery, all to get back land that was supposed to belong to the county in the first place.

The only other reference to a cemetery I came across in this tome of legislation relates to protections for the Baltimore City Heritage Area, which includes Mount Auburn. Mount Auburn's historic significance is tied in with the subject of my oft-promised and still delayed piece on the Rural Cemetery Movement in America.

This Cemetery Sunday has deviated from the norm a bit, as I haven't been able to visit the Elkhorn Cemetery, but it seemed a worthy topic and a truly fascinating tale! If you'd like to see pictures, there is an album at which has photos, has a good article and a few pictures, and has a good text-only article. Unfortunately, if you want to see the town you'd better hurry as it has been discovered by looters "timber salvors".

It's taken over a hundred years for these people to finally get control of their own cemetery back, but they finally have it. I wish them best of luck in their plans for this historic and locally-important cemetery. Sphere: Related Content

Friday, April 3, 2009

Tips & Tools: NC Live

If you live in North Carolina, you have access to an amazing resourcee: NC Live. NC Live provides access to any resource held in any participating library in North Carolina. This includes academic and scholarly databases such as J-Stor, which makes for an incredibly useful tool as users can directly access scholarly publications that would normally incur a fee (or simply be unavailable). Want to know more about the history of the Rural Cemetery Movement in America? You can search J-Stor and find some great articles. In addition you have access to newspaper clippings and special collections, a boon to any genealogist.

In most states, even if there is not a program such as NC Live, you can access scholarly publications in the library of public universities, and many of these archives offer the ability to download PDF copies of articles. In most states the libraries of public universities are open for use by residents of the state, you'll possibly need to sign up for a library card and provide proof of residence. It can be a hassle if you don't live near a university, but it is an option if you really need access to some material.

Do you know of similar programs in other states? Let me know - I'll post a list of websites for researchers in as many states as I can get information on. Leave a comment on this post or send me an e-mail!


I'm working on an article about the Rural Cemetery Movement, so keep an eye out. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Site News: Feed Problems

There have been issues between Feedburner and Blogger for the past day or so that have prevented new posts from showing up in Feedburner feeds. This problem has been fixed, but you might want to refresh your feeds and make sure you've seen the posts on April 1. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Grave News: Update on the Alabama Mass Grave

Here's a quick update on yesterday's story about the possible mass grave in Alabama. The Montgomery Advertiser is now reporting that 3 sets of remains, found in a different location than the others, may date to 1977. Apparently a piece of plastic of a type not used in the US until 1977 was found with these remains. Police are investigating but apparently aren't calling it foul play at the moment.

Without seeing the area where the bodies were found it's hard to make a call. This is near the city cemetery, so it's possible that these 3 individuals were buried and then forgotten. That's a pretty common scenario, sadly. Sphere: Related Content

Grave News: Yellow Fever Mass Grave in Montgomery, Alabama

CNN is reporting that a mass grave has been found in Montgomery, Alabama. It seems likely that this grave contains the victims of a yellow fever outbreak in the 1870's, possibly an 1878 outbreak which swept through Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. WSFA 12 News has detailed coverage including photos of the grave site and video coverage and the Montgomery Advertiser has coverage as well including photos and a write-up.

The comments at the Montgomery Advertiser are particularly revealing (and amusing, in a twisted kind of way). Any time you have a large gravesite found speculation starts running rampant. For example, one comment author writes (in response to a request for historical documentation):

That would be too much like right. They figure they can feed us anything and we will accept it. We all know that there is something underhanded concerning these bodies. However, we will never know anything about it because noone is willing jeopardize their namesake or hertiage to tell the truth, black or white.

So far there are charges of a coverup, theories that the grave is that of "slaves who were mass killed in the early 1800's", native american's, and a slew of other suspects. Of course, the simplest answer of yellow fever victims is conveniently ignored or brushed aside.

The thing is, there were many, many, many yellow fever outbreaks on the Southern coasts (and South in general) throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. There are historic markers attesting to this fact, it is well documented on genealogy sites, documented in books, and published in journals.

The tragedy here isn't that there are people willing to leap onto any conspiracy theory, the tragedy is they do so at the expense of the memories of countless individuals - Black, White, Native American, and every other skin color, ethnicity, and religious creed you care to name. These epidemics were a part of life in the 19th century, one that we've managed to forget. The victims were often buried in mass graves, away from other burying places due to fears over contagion. These locations have been lost through the intervening years as memories faded and people pushed horrible chapters in their lives behind them. That leaves us, their descendants, to stare in mixed wonder and horror at the tolls disease took in times past. No doubt Montgomery will work to properly lay the remains of the dead to rest, and memorialize them. We should all keep in mind that these are not the nameless dead, but fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters whose bodies had to be disposed of as quickly as possible, and reflect on the lessons for today. History can spring up anywhere, and unexpected bits of history can be sharp, bittersweet lessons like that in Alabama.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Grave News: Duffy's Cut Mass Grave

No Cemetery Sunday today, the thesis has demanded most of my time. Instead I’m going to talk about the Duffy’s Cut mass grave and the project to find it. A mass grave, especially one that has been kept secret for over 150 years, is arguably not a cemetery. However, since it is the resting place of many individuals, I'm going to go ahead and pretend it is. You may have seen news reports lately about the mass grave found at Duffy's Cut. The story seems straightforward enough, an archaeological dig to discover a mass grave of cholera victims. When you start really reading deeper the story takes some strange twists and turns though. Hang on for the wild ride of the ghostly gandy dancers of Duffy's Cut. There are all the elements of a grand Shakespearean play - murder, sickness, ghostly omens, family secrets, and maybe even closure.

The story begins in 1832 near Malvern, Pennsylvania. Construction of the Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad was underway and Philip Duffy hired 57 Irish laborers straight off the boat (literally). During the construction of what would become known as "Duffy's Cut", a cholera epidemic swept the area, and all 57 Irishmen died. Only the local blacksmith and a few nuns from the Sisters of Charity in Philadelphia attempted to help the men. According to lore, some of the nuns died of cholera and were buried in a ditch with the Irish laborers. The surviving Sisters of Charity could not find anyone willing to provide transport back to Philadelphia and had to walk back. For the next 170 years or so Duffy's Cut would maintain a reputation as a "haunted" spot, with reports of the dead Irishmen dancing jigs on their grave filtering back from individuals who had passed near the area. There are persistent rumors that at least some of the men were killed by Anti-Irish gangs which were known to be operating in the area in that time as there was a strong anti-Irish sentiment at the time. The Irish were sometimes held responsible for causing cholera outbreaks, and were often ostracized because the American citizens of the day felt they were just coming here to “steal our jobs”. Come to think of it, that’s a familiar refrain even in the 21st century (admittedly with a different group of immigrants). I recommend Charles Orser’s The Archaeology of Race and Racialization in Historic America if you’d like to know more about the development of race and racism in the United State in general. Wikipedia has a short article on anti-Irish discrimination as well.

Fast forward to the year 2000. Dr. William Watson, a professor at Immaculata University in Malvern, and a colleague were on campus one evening when they saw the apparitions of three glowing men standing on the campus lawn on Ember Night, which according to the article is when “the souls of the dead can leave purgatory and seek Earthly assistance”. Two years after this event, Dr. Watson discovered that his brother (Rev. Dr. J. Frank Watson) had inherited a sealed account of the events at Duffy’s Cut. As it turns out, the Pennsylvania Railroad (PRR) had acquired the Philadelphia and Columbia line along with its records. In 1909 the PRR assembled a secret file on the events at the cut, and kept it sealed. Joseph Tripician, the grandfather of the Watsons, was director of personnel for the PRR and was allowed to take anything he wanted following the collapse of the PRR. Among the files he took was the “secret” file on Duffy’s cut.

So, now Dr. Watson not only has the memory if a spectral visitation, he has the sealed files from the railroad, and he is a professor at the university that owns the land where the grave is supposed to be! Dr. Watson put together a team and began The Duffy’s Cut Project, which is dedicated to finding the remains of the workers. The Project was able to have a State Historic Marker erected in 2004, and during archaeological investigations found domestic items that could be associated with a railroad workers’ shantytown such as forks and ceramics. In 2007 The Duffy’s Cut Project had a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey performed that returned some interesting results. Work continued throughout 2008, still no human remains were found. That all changed last week: on March 23, 2009 the team uncovered human remains. So far the remains of 2 individuals have been found. You can find links to local news reports on the Duffy’s Cut Project’s Updates page.

Now, I have to put on my archaeologist’s hat for a minute. Looking at the videos on the update site, it appears that the team is just shoveling and scooping up remains. That’s not good archaeological practice, especially since they want DNA testing done. You see, where an object is located in the ground is as important as (if not more important than) the object itself. Re-read that sentence. In this case, seeing as these are human remains, the location of the bodies and the way they are arranged can tell an archaeologist a lot, things that would be good to know like: were the bodies laid out in the grave, or just tossed in a pit, were the bodies buried all at the same time or were they buried in sequences – meaning did all the workers die close to the same time or did it occur over a period of time. The location of any bullets can, of course, provide clues to the causes of death. Unfortunately, it seems that archaeologists did not do the first digs, and a lot may be lost already.

DNA testing brings up a whole new slew of concerns. If you’re hoping to get DNA information from human remains, ideally you want to excavate the remains carefully, wearing paper coveralls, hairnets, masks (surgical type), and surgical gloves to minimize the chance of contamination. You also want to have as few people as possible excavating and handling the remains. Every person that breathes on the remains is possibly contaminating them, you see, and by controlling the number of people who come in contact with them you can control for the chance of contamination through several methods including having every individual who has worked on the remains submit a DNA sample. Check out the videos though – the remains are just laying on a table at a press conference. That’s not a good thing. Now, they are planning on extracting DNA from teeth, and they do at least have a better chance of getting a good sample there, so all is not lost.

In defense of the project, they do seem to be trying to do the right thing. They have apparently put a call for archaeologists to assist in the excavation, and some articles have reported that they have secured the assistance of the Smithsonian in identifying the remains. I really am not sure what to think about this project, it alternates between seeming like the set-up a tourist attraction, what with the stories of ghosts and dark deeds and a legitimate attempt to find out what happened to these individuals. The project has already published The Ghosts of Duffy's Cut: The Irish Who Died Building America's Most Dangerous Stretch of Railroad and a video. The GPR survey had to have been expensive though, so a little fundraising can certainly be forgiven.

I’ve just found this whole story fascinating. It’s like a modern folk tale in so many ways. Ultimately I do get the impression that The Duffy’s Cut Project is a group of individuals who are trying to do the right thing for the individuals buried there, and I wish them well (and I hope they find an archaeologist or two who’s willing to take over the excavation portion of the project).

Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Theory: Upland South Folk Cemetery

Today I'm going to dip a toe in the realm of cemetery theory - in this case regarding the layout and place of cemeteries on the landscape. It's good to know some of the different styles of cemeteries and associated theoretical reasoning behind them - you can get a better idea when the cemetery was first used, what its original purpose was (family plot, commercial cemetery, church yard, etc), and where it belongs in the community. The discussion may get a little dry at times, but I'm going to try to just present a thumbnail sketch of the ideas involved and tell you where to go to find out more on your own if you are interested.

There are cemeteries that are formally laid out, for example, most city cemeteries (many of which follow the ideas of the Rural Cemetery movement, but that's a topic for another day), then there are the folk cemeteries - those that follow a folk, or vernacular, pattern. The distinction is roughly analogous to that between Landmark Architecture (created by professionally trained and schooled architects) and Vernacular Architecture (everything else - often applied to barns, houses, and other structures). Like Folk/Vernacular Architecture, Folk Cemeteries follow a cultural pattern developed through tradition and practical experience. There are many different traditions in cemeteries, one of which is the Upland South Folk Cemetery as defined by D. Gregory Jeane. I'm going to prevent a sort of thumbnail sketch of the Upland South Folk Cemetery (USFC), if you'd like to know more check out suggested reading at the end of this post.
The Upland South can be loosely defined as the area of significant log cabin construction. There is academic debate as to whether this area is defined more by geography or by culture, although for the purposes of the USFC culture is considered the defining characteristic. Jeanne notes that cemeteries, once established, are resistent change in the form of remodeling (people rarely dig up all their relatives so they bury them in a straight line or arranged by death-dates) but change may occur over time as new cemeteries are created and as old cemeteries continue to be used. To this end he has identified 3 phases in the USFC, the Pioneer, the Transitional, and the Modern. These three phases are identified by seperate traits for each phase. The Pioneer phase is distinguished by having all (or nearly all) of the following traits:

1) Hilltop location
2) Mounded graves
3) Scraped ground
4) East-west grave orientation
5) Creative decorations that emphasize "making do"
6) Cults of piety including work days which emphasized upkeep of the burial ground grounds as a memorial to the deceased (a cult of piety is made up of the various functions meant to remember and honor the dead, for example, decoration days and cemetery clean-up days)

The trait I have seen the least is scraped ground. This particular trait has to be maintained to really be visible, and it seems that while it might have been prevalent in the past, it is no longer being maintained in many areas.

The Transitional phase, as implied by the name, is a period of change within the USFC. Scraped areas begin to give way to grassed plots - the same cemetery may contain both grassed and scraped areas. Grave mounds began to dissapear, the use of grave markers increased, personal items on adult graves vanish (although this practice is maintained on infant and children's graves), grave shelters dissapear, and family plots come into use (among other changes). Family plots are often outlines with decorative items of convienence, ranging from rock to turpentine cups and the type of decorative plantings used changes. This phase lasted a significant amount of time, from the mid-18th century through the mid-to-late-20th century. The Rural Cemetery Movement (despite the name, this is a formal design and layout done by a professional landscaper) began in the United States in 1831, and it is perhaps this influence which brought about some of the changes in the Transitional Phase of the USFC.

The Modern Phase is the third phase in the USFC, and it does draw from the Rural Cemetery movement. This form became common following WWII, brought about by changes in the rural Southern landscape such as improved roads, automobiles, and television. This phase takes one of two forms of what Jeane describes as a "rural version" of the perpetual care cemetery or urban memorial garden. In both of these grassed areas replace scraped completely, headstones transition to mass-produced models which are very similar in dimensions and decoration, and the task of caring for the cemetery may be given over to perpetual-care organizations rather than dedicated groups of family members.

An important tradition in the USFC complex is that of "making do". Families "made do" by constructing markers of materials which could be worked by relatives of the deceased - often wooden markers, although in some areas with a strong ceramics tradition ceramic markers were made. In addition family plots might be outlined by turpentine cups, wooden rail fences, old bed frames, or other materials which could be adapted to the purpose. This ability to creatively adapt materials to a new purpose characterizes the "making do" ethic.

One additional note, the USFC complex is predominately a Euro-American tradition (ie "white" tradition) in that is draws heavily from the culture of the British Isles along with elements of Continental European culture. There are similarities in the material uses between the USFC and African American cemeteries, for example, the use of shells on graves, but to assume that either group was "merely" copying the decorative traditions of the other is an insult to the traditions and culture of both groups. African American cemeteries contain their own cultural traditions, which include elements such as making do, but were developed under different pressures from a different set of source traditions and are as rich and varied as those in any cemetery. That concludes the "soapbox" portion of the blog - I managed to touch on one of my own pet peeves!

There you have it, the USFC in a nutshell. Genealogy has a long tradition of "mining" cemeteries for genealogical information, but cemeteries can offer more to a researcher - they can give the researcher an insight into the people and place that led to the development of this cemetery, their beliefs, and what they considered to be important. It's important to keep this in mind when you visit a cemetery, whether you are there are an amateur genealogist or a professional academic researcher. Take a look around and see what the cemetery has to tell you, you might get a glimpse into the world of your ancestors that goes far beyond just names and dates!

If you'd like to read more, look for the following:

Jeane, D. Gregory. "The Upland South Folk Cemetery Complex: Some Suggestions of Origin" in Cemeteries and Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Cemetery Sunday: Hardee Chapel Cemetery with bonus Video Visit

This is a small cemetery in Greenville, NC. It's located off 10th Street, one of the busier streets in town, but it's barely visible from street level since the cemetery is located on a small rise or hill. The steps up to the cemetery are steep and narrow, constructed from cinder blocks with steel pipe for a handrail. The cemetery is particularly interesting for the variety of grave markers present, the earliest markers of John Hardee, his wife, and his son, are the earliest in the cemetery, and quite possibly the earliest surviving markers in the county. They are black New England slate with some unusual iconography. John Hardee and his wife's markers have a sun motif - a rising or setting sun.

Sorry about the quality of the image - it's hard to get a clear picture of slate, especially when the marker is in the shade. You can at least get an idea of the Sun motif. Whenever I see this particular motif I'm reminded of a (possibly apocryphal) story about George Washington. It seems he was seated in a chair that featured a sun carving on the back. He would comment that he had spent some time deciding if it were a rising or setting sun and had decided it was a rising sun appearing over the new republic.
Anyway, back to Hardee Chapel. As I said, for such a small cemetery it has quite a collection of markers. You can get a glimpse into most styles in this small cemetery. There are 3 slate markers, John Hardee's and his wife's grave both share the same sun motif.
Slate marker

john hardy's marker

Their son's grave has a different motif:
dual symbols on slate

The winged hourglass and cherubim isn't entirely uncommon, but I have not seen a grave where the two occur on the same marker anywhere else in NC. He was relatively young when he died, in his 20's. His marker details his life, unfortunately I was not able to transcribe the lettering as it wasn't legible the day I was in the cemetery. Sometimes it takes several visits to get all of a long inscription - the light, moisture, and everything else has to be just right!
Moving along in time from the colonial, there are a few markers that are either a compressed sandstone or weathered marble:
sandstone or marble

Along with late 19th century/early 20th marble:
Marble marker

And finally 20th century concrete and granite:
concrete slab

Modern granite marker

As a special treat, this Cemetery Sunday is combined with a Video Visit! Check out the video below for more details of the cemetery and the markers in it, along with a glimpse of the surrounding neighborhood!

Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave any comments or feedback on the blog, always like to hear what people like, don't like, and any suggestions for new content. Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Grave news: Cremation Urns and Small Businesses

CNN is running a series called "Small Business Success" on their website. One of the featured businesses is
Funeria, a small business specializing in artist made funeral urns. Cremation is not a new practice, but it is one that has only recently become more widely accepted and practiced in the United States. Maybe we'll see art galleries filled with sculptures, ceramics, and other art forms containing the ashes of the deceased and with an endowment to maintain the piece and/or gallery in perpetuity. Sort of a mausoleum meets art gallery.

Sphere: Related Content

Friday, March 20, 2009

Video Visit: African American section, Cherry Hill Cemetery

Welcome to the first edition of a new feature here on Cemetery Space! I am adding video to the site and kicking things off with a Video Visit. What's a Video Visit? Well, it's pretty much what the name implies - a recorded visit and brief walk-through of a cemetery or portion of a cemetery. I'll talk about the history and other items of significance along with a few tips and tidbits of cemetery lore.

The first VV is a visit to the African American section of the Cherry Hill Cemetery in Greenville, NC. This was featured in a post a few weeks ago, so I decided to re-visit it and film a video for the new feature. 

I hope you like the new feature! My video skills are still being polished, so expect them to improve over time. Sphere: Related Content