Are your ancestors safely at rest? We examine the state of historic cemeteries.
Old City Cemetery in Tallahassee, Fla., is the final resting place of plantation owners, slaves, yellow fever victims and Civil War soldiers. Established in 1829, this center-city graveyard has seen decades of both routine maintenance and extreme neglect. In the early 1990s, it fell victim to a particularly vicious act of vandalism. Headstones were overturned, ripped from the ground and shattered. The crime destroyed not only the sense of peace befitting a final resting place, but also the tombstones' value as historical records and relics.
Fortunately, the Historic Tallahassee Preservation Board, along with the city and the Florida Department of State, fought back with restoration efforts including preserving stones and installing a fence. But most of our country's tens of thousands of derelict or abandoned cemeteries remain all but forgotten, says Sharyn Thompson, director of the Florida-based Center for Historic Cemetery Preservation <www.historiccemeteriespreservation.com>. Crime, poor maintenance and difficult access threaten to erase the historical treasures in old public cemeteries, plantation graveyards, farmstead plots, potter's fields and now-defunct church burial grounds.