Histories Vanish Along With South’s Cemeteries

8 Feb

The old dead lie beneath a noxious carpet of brambles and poison ivy, their tombstones mostly shattered and their names long forgotten. The graves of the recent dead, fresh mounds of ocher clay, are equally anonymous, without a single stone or marker among the strewn beer cans and candy wrappers.

Hundreds of people — or perhaps more than a thousand, no one really knows — are buried in this single acre of sloping earth. Former slaves, sharecroppers, teachers and preachers who lived in Thomaston's black section in the 1860's lie beside modern-day indigents brought here by funeral homes. Local records show that impoverished Confederate veterans were buried here, too, but their headstones are nowhere to be found.

Old Mill Cemetery, as it is known, is a no man's land of the dead. Diane Caldwell comes here once in a while to tear out saplings and vines, but she knows nature is winning.

"I go through this cemetery and I can feel people crying out for help," said Ms. Caldwell, 38, a genealogist who lives near this faded mill town of 9,400 people. "They're saying `Please don't forget us.' "

But there are thousands of graveyards like this in the South. From North Carolina to Arkansas, time, development and neglect are swallowing abandoned cemeteries, historians and preservation groups say.

Read more about how Histories Vanish Along With South’s Cemeteries.

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