Today’s post is by John LeGloahec, Archivist in the Electronic Records Division at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
Why are there fences around cemeteries?
Because people are dying to get in.
Bad dad joke
There are more than ninety-four thousand properties in the National Register of Historic Places and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives Identifier 20812721), of which there are more than twenty-seven thousand entries for the search term “cemetery.” There are links to cemeteries across the United States, including the Federated States of Micronesia SP German Cemetery (National Archives Identifier 131517787 and the Montana SP Boothill Cemetery (National Archives Identifier 71976709), just to name a few.
In Micronesia, the “German Cemetery in Kolonia is kind of like an OASIS in the middle of a vast barren desert. It is accessible, but only after a person walks through the dense clump of stream ridden mangrove between the closest road and the cemetery . . . Many of the original headstones placed at the site by Germans are in excellent repair, however, a few have fallen prey to vandals and severe climatic changes over the past 65 or 66 years . . . The Site is of major significance and value to Ponapeans as it serves as a reminder of events which took place during the German Occupancy of Ponape. Two German Governors, one who died mysteriously in 1907 – the same day he dug up the tomb of the first king and father of the monarchy or traditional leader system still employed in Ponape; and one killed on October 18, 1910, are among those buried in the cemetery. The first Yapese man to come to Ponape, a contemporary of the Germans, is also buried in the cemetery.”
Not far from Billings, Montana is the Yellowstone River town of Coulson, the site of Boothill Cemetery. Following the migration of most of the residents to Billings, Coulson was mostly abandoned. “I. D. O’Donnell of Billings” who was given the title to the cemetery, and was “aware of its historical importance, Mr. O’Donnell was instrumental in Boothill’s preservation, and he erected a rock and mortar obelisk on the cemetery ’s hilltop. Midway up the obelisk’s west side a concrete plaque was embedded with the carving: “Died 1877-1882.” Cut into marble on each of the four sides of the obelisk’s base are verses written by Mrs. B. F. Shuart, wife of the first minister of Billings Congregational Church:
“This monument marks a historic site
Where thirty-five lie buried.
They played the drama called life for
fortune and fame
Lost their lives; lost their game.”
“Upon this rugged hill,
The long trail past,
These men of restless will
Find rest at last.”
“The stream flows on but it matters not
To the sleepers here by the world forgot.
The heroes of many a tale unsung,
They lived and died when the West was young.”
“In memory of those who blazed the trail
And showed to us our West
In boots and spurs they lie
And on this hill find rest.”
Cemeteries are further broken down into specific categories, such as Urban Cemeteries, cemeteries created during the Rural Cemetery Movement, and National Cemeteries. There are also a number of cemeteries dedicated to specific ethnic groups, for example, the African American cemeteries of Petersburg (National Archives Identifier 41678866).
Across the West are countless numbers of cemeteries and Native American burial grounds, similar to the one pictured above. In Ajo, Arizona, one can visit the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, and visit the Arizona SP I’itoi Mo’o–Montezuma’s Head and ‘Oks Daha–Old Woman Sitting, which “is a rock formation sacred to the Tohono O’odham and Hia-Ced O’odham groups of the Tohono O’odham Nation, also “known by outsiders as the Papago” people. It is situated at the northern end of the Ajo Mountains in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument near the eastern boundary of the monument shared with the Tohono O’odham Nation . . . The rock formation consists of two parts. The main feature is perceived as a human-like figure — many say of a woman — sitting, with head and shoulders facing the southwest. A smaller rock formation is situated just north of the main peak, the woman’s basket.”
Just across the Memorial Bridge (also on the National Register) in Washington DC is located Arlington National Cemetery, which was formerly the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. “In 1863 Congress levied a tax on all confiscated properties, including Arlington, requiring that owners personally appear to make payment. A relative attempted to pay the Arlington taxes for Mrs. Lee, who was ill and behind Confederate lines, but payment was rejected. Arlington was put up for sale for non-payment of taxes in January 1864 and was purchased by the U.S. Government. In May 1864 Secretary of War Edwin Stanton ordered that a national cemetery be established at Arlington, and the first burials took place that month. The house became headquarters for Arlington National Cemetery, continuing in that use until the late 1920s.” Virginia SP Arlington House, The Robert E. Lee Memorial, “is a Greek revival structure composed of a large two-story central section flanked by two one-story wings . . . The house was built by George Washington Parke Custis, foster son of George Washington.” The mansion that sits atop a hill within the cemetery borders, “is now within Arlington National Cemetery and the George Washington Memorial Parkway. During the Lees’ residency, the carriage drive to the mansion came up along the south and eastern edge of the flower garden south of the house and across the front of the house. This approach from behind and beside the garden is now maintained by Arlington National Cemetery and used as a footpath.”
Along the Savannah River in Willington, South Carolina there is a cemetery, seen above, which for “Those intrigued by a name and a date will find the aged headstones in this cemetery a feast for the imagination.” Not far, one can visit the Guillebeau House (National Archives Identifier 118998189), which “is a good example of Southern pioneer construction. Built on the double pen house plan developed extensively in the South, the house has one exterior chimney and two front entrances” also features a “family cemetery is included” that is “maintained by the Guillebeau descendants.”
Just outside of Capitan, New Mexico is Fort Stanton (National Archives Identifier 77847323), which “was established in April 1855 to control Mescalero Apache depredations which had flared up in the area the year before. The post was named in memory of Capt. Henry Stanton, 1st Dragoons, who had been killed by the Mescaleros in January 1855, during a skirmish some forty miles south of the Fort’s location . . . The original layout of Fort Stanton, around a rectangular parade ground, has persisted from its beginnings in 1855 until today. A dozen or more of the present buildings, modified to greater and lesser extents, date prior to the_1896 Army abandonment and several retain at least the walls of the original pre-Civil War permanent structures.” Also found on the property include “other significant physical remains at the site are two cemeteries. The old post cemetery is situated on a ridge one-half mile south of the parade ground and still contains several marked interments. However, 58 service personnel were removed in June 1896 and reburied in Santa Fe. The merchant marine cemetery [seen above], in use as late as 1966, lies about three quarters of a mile southeast of the main buildings and has roughly 1,000 graves, mostly those of tuberculosis patients. A few have tombstones, but most graves there are recorded via a numbered stone block.”
In the Pribilof Islands of Alaska, there are a number of Russian Orthodox sites, including the St. George the Great Martyr Orthodox Church, which was “built on this island during the period 1870-1878, at a place of encampment about five miles from the present church site. The present church was constructed about 1935, using materials which had to be brought to the island, as no trees grow here. The workmanship was all local, but the design was a sophisticated utilization of traditional patterns integrated with consonant eclectic details. Of all the R. O. village churches and chapels in Alaska, this may be the best example of effective balance and integration of classic designs to produce a building pleasing to the eye and utile in its purpose.”
Near Eddyville, Kentucky is the Hickory Grove cemetery (seen above). The Old Eddyville Historic District (National Archives Identifier 123851177) “consists of the nine remaining historic structures of the original town. Most of old Eddyville was destroyed in the 1960s by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Tennessee Valley Authority in order to facilitate the creation of Lake Barkley, one of the two large manmade lakes in western Kentucky that comprise the region’s popular resort and recreational area. In order to create the lake, the Cumberland River was dammed about ten miles downriver from Eddyville near Grand Rivers. The resulting floodwaters enveloped most of the nineteenth-century town, leaving only the small peninsula containing the penitentiary and the few houses above the 367-foot flood level . . . The Old Eddyville Historic District is unique in that it comprises the vestiges of one of western Kentucky’s earliest and most important settlements. Inundated by the damming of the Cumberland River in the mid 1950s, the old town of Eddyville retains but a minute portion of the buildings reflective of its nineteenth century prosperity which was so vital to this region of the state until the outbreak of the Civil War.”
Cemeteries are places for us to go to pay our respects to our family, our friends, and those that gave “the last full measure of devotion” as President Barack Obama did at a Memorial Day ceremony at Abraham Lincoln Cemetery in Illinois. Memorial Day, which was observed yesterday, was once known as Decoration Day, in which people would go to National Cemeteries and decorate the graves of fallen veterans.
This post is part of an ongoing series featuring records from the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP) and National Historic Landmarks Program Records, 2013 – 2017 (National Archives ID 20812721), a series within Record Group 79: Records of the National Park Service.