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Archive for Sunday, May 30, 1999

SOME GRAVES ARE FORGOTTEN

May 30, 1999

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On the day that families gather to tend the graves of loved ones and honor those who died in war, many graves are forgotten.

Black Jack Cemetery was mowed just in time for Memorial Day.

Frank O'Neil, who lives nearby, made sure of it. He has a friend, a World War II veteran, buried there.

"I was afraid it might be turned into a pasture if it wasn't taken care of," O'Neill said. He's mowed it himself a few times. This year, he asked County Commissioner Tom Taul to get a county crew to mow the old site east of Baldwin just once, for the holiday.

"The weeds are real bad," Taul said. "Several neighbors had told me there were several war veterans buried there."

Taul tried to find out who the cemetery belonged to, and who should care for it. It isn't part of any cemetery district, which have mill levies for upkeep. He found a deed from the 1800s showing that it once belonged to the Black Jack Presbyterian Church, but the church is long gone.

He still isn't sure to whom it belongs now.

Memorial Day

Not every grave will be remembered on Monday.

While war dead are honored on Memorial Day at cemeteries in Douglas County, several burial sites will be forgotten. There are more than a hundred burial sites in Douglas County, ranging from solitary graves to vast city cemeteries.

Some of the remote sites have crumbled with age and neglect, with no one left to remember them.

"Forever is a long time, that's all I can tell you," said Steve Jansen, director of Watkins Community Museum of History. "... It's just in the nature of things."

The Memorial Day holiday was started after the Civil War. Graves of both Northern and Southern veterans were decorated to honor their memory.

"On Decoration Day, which is what it was originally called, these places were to be decorated, and at least remembered," Jansen said. There are people who make an effort to care for cemeteries no one claims, like Black Jack and the Lake View-Crowder-Lewis Cemetery.

Forgotten

It's easy for some older burial sites to be overlooked, Jansen said. If there isn't a relative or a cemetery district looking after them, they can decay. Stones fall over, weeds grow and soon it's hard to see there was ever a gravesite.

"It's awful easy just to ignore them," he said.

Many cemeteries are cared for by cemetery districts -- there are seven in Douglas County -- but there are some that are unclaimed or on private property that go untended.

"They're easy to fall through the cracks," he said. "...We should at least try."

Jean Snedeger, of the Douglas County Genealogical Society, worked on a complete tombstone census of Douglas County. Her research sent her tramping through fields to find forgotten burial sites.

"We did find quite a few scattered around," she said. "... No one takes care of them anymore. It's really sad when you find a grave or a group of graves where some of them are sunk in."

The county doesn't mow or tend cemeteries, County Administrator Craig Weinaug said

"I know that there are cemeteries that aren't covered by a cemetery district that have little or no maintenance," Weinaug said.

Taking charge

In a few cases, though, people step up to see the weeds are cleared and the graves marked.

Last year Iona Spencer, Lecompton, saw the Lake View-Crowder-Lewis Cemetery rededicated after she worked with others to clear and clean it.

"It was in terrible shape," she said. "You walked up there and you couldn't walk through it."

After Spencer got the word out, 36 people showed up in January of 1997 to clear the landlocked cemetery. East of Lecompton, it isn't easy to get to; there is no road in. Volunteers must hike over private property to get to it. It took more than one outing, but the graveyard was rededicated on Memorial Day 1998.

This year, it is mowed and will have flowers for the holiday. Spencer was out working in the heat Saturday afternoon to make sure it was in good condition by Monday.

"We have the flowers and the Boy Scouts built us a shed up there to keep our mowing machines in," Spencer, a member of the Lecompton Historical Society, said. She and the others who care for the cemetery use donations to keep it mowed and trimmed. It's a big job with small push mowers.

"I just hate to see a cemetery in bad shape," she said.

-- Felicia Haynes' phone message number is 832-7173. Her e-mail address is fhaynes@ljworld.com.

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