Having spent a lot of time recently in cemeteries, literally digging into my family’s history, and pouring through “Cemetery Historical Walks” books that guide you through the cemetery and the history and lives of those buried within, I was delighted to find a wonderful article in the Central Shenandoah Valley Newsleader.com by Alice Mannette called Watching Over History – Cities of the Dead Give Up Their Stories to the Living Who Will Listen:
Oliver Tate has been tending the tombstones at Staunton’s Fairview Cemetery for 16 years. A chipper 84-year-old, Tate mows the grass, digs the graves and helps others find long lost relatives â€” all as a volunteer. Through his and others’ diligence, hundreds of cemeteries in Augusta County, Staunton and Waynesboro are havens of rest, as well as living museums for research and learning.
…For many years, Fairview, founded in 1869, was in disrepair, but with Tate’s love and a group called Friends of Fairview, which formed in 2003, the old tombstones are getting spruced up.
“Our mission is to research the history and preserve it,” said Dixon…Thornrose goes back to 1849. It replaced the already 100-year-old graveyard at Trinity Episcopal Church when it became full.
…”We get visitors from all over,” said Larry Campbell, Thornrose’s superintendent. “Probably the most visited grave is that of Jedediah Hotchkiss, Stonewall Jackson’s topographer, whose home was in Staunton.”
The Fairview Cemetery in Virginia hosts an amazing history of the United States going back to the 1700s, including soldiers from many wars, even the Revolutionary War, and many slaves and free blacks. All religions are found there. Veterans are especially honored with signs and symbols. Some of the buried residents were famous in their time, and many are just “folks”.
The cemetery isn’t just something to drive by and barely notice. According to the article, “Many residents work diligently to record, clean and upkeep the cemeteries.” Lists of the interned are kept in publicly accessible records to help genealogists and family history researchers.
I hope more communities follow the lead of the Fairview Cemetery and bring some life back to their cemeteries.
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