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|On this page we bring you an article courtesy of the Hannibal Courier Post. It was originally printed Monday, August 15, 2005 and is reprinted here by permission.|
Gone - and,
too often, forgotten
Story by DANNY HENLEY Of the Courier-Post
It was almost three years ago that a bulldozer operator happened upon a small, overgrown cemetery while clearing land at Hannibal Regional Airport.
"It was just an unfortunate accident that the contractor who was working at the airport happened to drive through right where the cemetery was. It was all overgrown. No one was maintaining it at all at that time," said Jim Burns, city engineer.
Over the past two years the city has seen to it that the headstones damaged by the bulldozer were replaced and that the cemetery is now protected by a fence. The new monument, which was created and erected by Hannibal Monument Company late last summer, cost the city $1,470. This spring the city spent almost $600 to install a chain-link fence around the approximately 30-foot by 30-foot plot.
"They have done everything they said they were going to," said Bill Wilson, who lives near the airport, regarding the work the city has done at the site.
The only thing now that Wilson would like to see is the cemetery mowed on a regular basis.
"I mowed it earlier this summer. Since then nothing else has been done with it," he said. "The cemetery is on their property. They have the airport mowed once or twice a year. I don't think it would hurt for them to mow it."
According to Burns it should be the responsibility of the families who have ancestors buried there to maintain the site, since it technically doesn't belong to the city.
"If you go back far enough in the deeds, the transfer of that ground to the city that is the airport specifically excludes that ground used for the family cemetery," he said. "I don't know who the actual owners would be. You'd have to do a title search and find out the heirs of whoever had it. Those folks that have relatives there can maintain it."
The cemetery contains the remains of Joseph M. Head and the Maupin family.
Head chose to be buried at the site, rather than in his wife's family plot which is located adjacent to Head Lane. As a known Confederate sympathizer, he was afraid his grave would be vandalized, according to Dale Hayes, Head's great-great-grandson, in a 2002 interview with the Courier-Post. Head died in 1878.
The fate of the cemetery located at the airport is far better than that which befalls most abandoned cemeteries, according to Tiffany Patterson, national register coordinator with the State Historic Preservation Office.
"A lot of cemeteries are being lost all the time from neglect and the fact that nobody knows it's there. Many of the graves are unmarked to begin with," she said. "There are probably a lot (of small, rural cemeteries) that have been lost and which continue to be lost."
There is no state agency whose responsibility it is to oversee the preservation of cemeteries.
"There is not a concerted effort on our part to promote the preservation (of rural cemeteries) the way we should. We have a concern about them because they are an important resource, but we do not have the staff and the time to focus on rural cemeteries," said Patterson, referring to the State Historic Preservation Office. "I've heard the Department of Economic Development is supposed to maintain a list of all cemeteries in the state. However, I'm not sure that's an active position, or it could be part of the 20 other duties one person has to do."
Getting a cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places is no easy feat, according to Patterson.
"Cemeteries do not fit in well with the national listing," she said. "There are additional hoops that you have to go through (for a cemetery) as opposed to getting a house or a bridge on the list."
Missouri has an assortment of laws in place to help local officials oversee cemeteries, including those which have been abandoned.
One of the biggest legal concerns of cemetery preservationists is the continued access to small family plots that are now surrounded by private property. Missouri addressed that problem in 2000. According to the legislation that was passed, "any person who wishes to visit an abandoned family cemetery or private burying ground which is completely surrounded by privately owned land, for which no public ingress or egress is available, shall have the right to reasonable ingress or egress for the purpose of visiting such cemetery."
In a further effort to protect cemeteries, the same bill made it a Class A misdemeanor to "knowingly destroy, mutilate, disfigure, deface, injure or remove any tomb, monument or gravestone, or other structure placed in any abandoned family cemetery or private burying ground."
Copyright 2005 The Hannibal Courier-Post and Morris Digital Works. Reprinted with permission.
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