OpEd: Graveyards should be protected 'memory places'

OpEd by Anne Campbell Peden:

The times, they are always a changin’!

Cemeteries are all around us.  Some are big with hundreds and thousands of graves, like Rose Hill in Piedmont.  Some are small like the family graveyards you see as you drive along most any of our roads.  I once told a cousin that the family cemetery we were looking for in Laurens County would be on a hill with a fence around it.  Most of them are around here, you know.  And it was.  But that’s another story. Anyway, for me this has been the year of cemeteries, mine and yours.  

Some folks still appreciate cemeteries.  My daughter lives right against the back of the Mt. Pleasant Cemetery and loves the quiet that lies behind her home.  (Although, occasionally she or a neighbor experience something "other worldly.")  I have always been intrigued by cemeteries and have been known to turn around in the road to visit one that caught my traveling eye.  I’ve been to cemeteries just to photograph angels.  Macon, GA, has the best ones, but Lexington, KY, is close in the running.  I’ve been to cemeteries like Boot Hill in Tombstone, Arizona, too.  Once when visiting Deadwood, South Dakota’s, Mt. Moriah Cemetery, you know, the one where Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane are buried, folks were celebrating over their graves.  They were dressed in period costumes, playing guitars, drinking, and singing.  They surely appreciated that cemetery.  

That’s what graveyards should be – memory places - for each of us has a different type of history to share.  

One such cemetery is for my own Campbell ancestors in the Moonville area, and it is surrounded now by Campbell Farms housing development.  As many family cemeteries often are, it was neglected for tens of years until recently a distant cousin from Columbia came to the rescue.  Art Coogler and his wife spent days cutting small trees out of the enclosed cement walls, gathered cousins far and wide to contribute to further maintenance, and was about to despair over the work that needed to continue.

Single-handedly, Art, begged, pleaded, and prayed, and a miracle was provided.  The Etta Greer Garden Club of the Moonville area under the guidance of the president, Debbie Welborn, has decided to take the Campbell Cemetery on as their garden project.  Praise be!  We Campbell descendants are thrilled and so grateful to these wonderful ladies.  I want to commend them for taking on such work, and wish more groups would consider this type of activity as community service, too. 

As I moaned earlier, this has been a year of cemeteries for me.  As chair of the Greenville County Historic Preservation Commission, I have been working on three different abandoned graveyards for over a year, Duncan Chapel Cemetery near Furman, the Stephen Smith Family Cemetery off Pelham Road, and the Thomas, Edwards, Rush Families Cemetery off Hwy. 101 near Lake Cunningham.  These cemeteries are very old and have much history to share, but because they were unfenced and almost forgotten, and because developers want the surrounding property, their stories are not so happy.

If you have an abandoned cemetery on your property or know of an abandoned family one, please designate the limits of it in some way.  Delineating graveyards for posterity and locating them on your deed with the county would be helpful.  Please be aware that someone in the future may be looking to build something there and destroying cemeteries is against state law.  I remember people being arrested for digging up graves and removing bones and artifacts, but now, take my word for it, it is very hard to arrest a company for bulldozing one.  Many businesses have sensitively cared for cemeteries as they built, so they are to be commended.  But…….

Times continue to be a changin’ for Greenville County.  Growth is inevitable and needed, but this history of Greenville is what has brought us to this place, and these souls led the way.  Let us celebrate history over the graves of our ancestors with those folks at Mt. Moriah, not moan their destruction.

Anne Campbell Peden, Phd., serves as the Chair of the Greenville County Historic Preservation Commission.