Thirty-five

Becherovka

 Ham and Cheese with Deli Ham, Deli Pickles, Peppercorn Mayo, Lettuce, Swiss and Cheddar on Toasted Marble Rye.

I ducked into the Penny to have another disgusting drink. I’m nearing the end of my quest and most of the drinks that are left are the ones I didn’t want to consume, but a deal is a deal. I knew I was in trouble when I ordered the drink and my server said, “Oh, you mean the Christmas Tree drink.” It’s heavy on the ginger and cinnamon, so I get the Christmas reference, but I would rather eat a branchful of pine needles than ever order this drink again.

On to this week’s entry…

The Margaret Lane cemetery is located, obviously, on Margaret Lane. I can walk to it from my house, but I’ve always driven as I’m casing the grounds for when I make my move. I have decided, as all of you have gathered by now, that I’m going under the house to retrieve the bones that I believe Rafe has already dug up, dig up more if I can figure out where they are, and then I’m going to rebury them in the Margaret Lane cemetery. Hopefully this will bring peace to the unhappy spirit living beneath my house, she’ll stop weeping and I’ll be left to my own peace.

Trustees for the Margaret Lane Cemetery were appointed by the city in 1854, but like the Old Town cemetery it is supposed to have existed from before that date as a burial ground for slaves owned by landowners in the surrounding area. Like many slave cemeteries, it has a history rich with mistreatment by the white citizens of old and present Hillsborough. As always, I am boggled by the perfidy, thoughtlessness, and criminal acts of these people.

The cemetery was filled to capacity by 1931. A local historian, Mary Claire Engstrom wrote in a small self-published book in 1973 that at one time the cemetery was enclosed by a low brick wall on the west and north sides. It is unclear how the pigs and cows were kept out in the early days, probably no one cared. There are now no obvious indications of any graves except a single small wrought-iron fence and gate in the southwest corner. Only six identifiable gravestones remain in the cemetery. Three are preserved in a brick memorial on the site, two are in the wrought-iron enclosure and an obelisk marks the grave of one George Hill, who died in 1900.

And where are the rest of the gravestones, you may ask? Those of you who have been keeping up with the blog know that the slave graves were not usually prepared or attended to in the way white graves were. Often the markers were made of wood, or if stone was used they weren’t usually inscribed. The various shells, urns, lamps, and bowls and other ephemera used to indicate the graves have long been plundered or lie hidden under the dirt and vegetation on the two acres of the yard.

I always park my car about a block from the site in a large gravel parking lot that faces a row of businesses: a couple of excellent bars, a pet food store, an ice cream shop, and the Hillsborough BBQ restaurant that has some of the best BBQ in the area, if not the entire state. It’s a huge parking lot and there are often plenty of cars in it, even late at night, a fact I’m counting on when I undertake my grave digging. There are also many earth moving-type machines scattered around as this area of town is undergoing a major revitalization.

The cemetery is like a park and you can often find folks walking their dogs there, but it’s really a very quiet spot. After some infighting about who owned the property, the two lots were turned over to a citizens committee to take care of; the cemetery was rededicated in 1987. It was a mess before they restored the grounds.

Over the years (before 1987) the citizens of my fair town showed their indifference to history or at least any history that didn’t feature the noble confederacy and their gallant war with the North. This was a slave cemetery, a black cemetery, and the great majority didn’t give a damn about it. It was overgrown with tall weeds and scrub brush; the gravestones had all been stolen to make walkways and as underpinnings to houses. (I wonder about my house and half expect to someday come across a gravestone jammed under a pillar.) But in 1987 those that did care cleaned up the property and rededicated it. This is what it looks like now.Mln cem 1

Besides the six gravestones there now, there was another that had been found and was at the rededication. It was leaning against the dedication stone and had the name of the slave, Dinah Thompson, crudely carved into the stone. Several days after the dedication it was destroyed by vandals.

It always surprises me to find that physical changes to the landscape, the earth, the ground, usually remain changed, unless someone comes along and completely reworks the land. In this case, the sites of the hundreds of years old graves are sunken, making the landscape a series of rolling hummocks. When you walk across it, you have to be careful not to trip over the unevenness. It is said that after a light snow the grave impressions can be easily seen.

In 2006 the firm Of Grave Concern did a study of the sunken areas, the general surface conditions, and controlled probing. They identified 142 graves and thought there might be another 32 that they weren’t sure of. Each authenticated grave is marked by two small marble markers at ground level at the head and the foot of the grave.  These are difficult to see, which is just as well as if they were more obvious someone would probably steal them.

If the small park is lonely even on the nicest days, it is far lonelier in the middle of the night. I’ve made several reconnaissance trips there around 1:00 to 2:00 AM. At 1:00 AM, there are still cars in the big parking lot, but by 2:00 anyone walking around is going to be suspicious. But it’s dark and the folks that live around the perimeter of the cemetery seem to go to bed well before then. There are few outside lights that remain on, so a guy dressed in black skulking through the deep shadows with a rucksack that contains some old bones and a fold-up shovel would have a pretty good chance of pulling off a minor interment. I wonder what the law is anyway? I don’t know who actually owns the cemetery now; I don’t know what the law is about burying old bones. I have a feeling that a decent lawyer could get an old duffer like me off by declaring that I’m sort of crazy anyway, it was all just a prank, or maybe research for a novel. Or a blog.

Anyway, I’m going to break it up into three forays: one, go the graveyard in the middle of the night and dig up a spot and see if anyone notices or calls the cops; two, head under the house and get what bones are there and/or dig some more up; three, rebury the bones in the cemetery.

Wish me luck.

tombstones and fence

4 thoughts on “Thirty-five

  1. I dunno…….I see trouble ahead……..what if in the cemetery you dig up somebody else’s bones? And what about your girl’s bones wanting a proper christian burial with a priest and all? And what if you get caught and the police think you’ve murdered someone and are trying to get rid of the evidence………? But then again, you could refer them to this blog………..

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  2. Yeah, your comment does point out some of the possible difficulties. I don’t think that not having a priest will matter much as slave ceremonies never included any official religious leaders. I will be putting up a meditation on the idea of transgressions such as I am contemplating.

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