Homer Barnett of Princeton sinks a cross into the ground to mark a grave at the Chambers Cemetery in the Trigg County portion of the Land Between the lakes
'SOMEBODY LOVED THEM'
Cemetery cleaners take on emotional task
By Todd Turner - Cadiz Record Staff
"It's kinda humbling when you read those tombstones and think 'I'm just a little speck in the history of Between the Rivers.'" - Sylvia Canon
Mapping the Cemeteries
An Unknown Friend
Lunie Oliver hammered the final gravemarker into the soft earth, pounding out the message: The Between the Rivers Preservation Organization has reclaimed another forgotten cemetery.
A moment of satisfying triumph after years of neglect, but a moment of thoughtful sadness about trigg County souls buried a century ago.
"This nearly just brings tears to my eyes," said 83 year old Louise Stafford after supervising the spotting of unmarked graves Saturday morning at the chambers Cemetery overlooking Kentucky Lake.
"Somebody loved them sometime," Stafford said, glancing at the makeshift PVC pipe crosses erected at previously unmarked graves. "They might have been leaders of their community."
Thanks to these volunteer preservationists, the dead won't be forgotten, and their ancestors may now be able to find their gravesites.
The 45-grave Chambers Cemetery and scores of others like it in 170,000-acre Land Between the lakes recreation area are getting a heavy dose of tender loving care from the Between the Rivers Preservation Organization, which former to protect and preserve the area's history.
While more than half of the 220 or so cemeteries in LBL have been continuously cared for by families or other groups since the Tennessee Valley Authority took over in the mid -1960-s more than 100 graveyards have been neglected so long some are unrecognizable.
Fallen and rotting trees, unruly plants and thick mats of leaves clutter the old cemeteries, but the group unearths each cemetery with a whirlwind of chainsaws, axes and rakes to bring back to life each plot of land set aside for the dead.
"You look around and it doesn't look like a very large percentage of people are working" at any one time, said Beale Canon of Saturday's 40 or so workers, who renewed the Chamber Cemetery in a couple of hours. "It's amazing how much work" they get done in so little time, Canon added. The weekly workforces is made up mostly of Lyon and Trigg county residents who either lived between the Kentucky and Cumberland rivers, or had family ties to the area that was turned into a recreation area three decades ago.
For some of them, it's been a reunion with old friends and a return to a land that holds many painful memories of the years when families were forced to abandon their homes to make way for the flooding of the rivers and creation of LBL.
For all of them, it's a learning experience about old homesteads, as the cemeteries speak of the land's rich history, said Sylvia Cotton.
"It's kinda humbling when you read those tombstones and think 'I'm just a little speck in the history of Between the Rivers.'"
A most unusual headstone greeted the cemetery cleaners Saturday at Chambers Cemetery in the Trigg County portion of LBL. This monument was erected in honor of the wives of D.A. Mitchell, who, ironically, wasn't buried at the cemetery.
Cleaning forgotten cemeteries easy compared to journey to reach graves
By Todd Turner - Cadiz Record Staff
Cleaning neglected cemeteries isn't usually a problem for the Between the Rivers Preservation Organization. but getting to the burial sites is sometimes a little tricky.
Gravel and mudcaked roads in the Land Between the Lakes recreation area often require the preservationists to rely on four-wheel drive vehicles to get as close as possible to the overgrown cemeteries, and often a short hike is required to reach the site itself.
Saturday morning's trip to Chambers Cemetery near Kentucky Lake's Vickers Bay required about a 6 mile trip off the Trace on rough gravel roads, but it was "like running on an interstate" compared to other journeys on mudhold-filled logging roads, said Bobby Hudson, who once had to have his vehicle wenched out after getting stuck.
But once the group gets to a cemetery, things appear to go like clockwork during the weekly cleaning trips.
The group studies maps and cemetery surveys, and some members make preliminary trips to check on boundaries and see what shape the burial site is in. (Iron stakes are driven and ribbons are put on trees to mark the boundaries for the future)
Although nearly all of Saturday's 40 or so workers were middle-aged and older --- at 83, retired Lyon County schools' librarian Louise Stafford said she believes she's the oldest -- they buzzed through Chambers Cemeter like people half their age.
First, they used chainsaws to cut down and remove young trees amid gravestones. Then leaves, brush and other growth was raked away and pushed aside. Finally, gravestones were cleaned and PVC pipe markers were placed for unmarked graves. The whole process took just more than two hours.
The group has cleaned more than 20 cemeteries as they work their way from north to south through Lyon and Trigg counties in Kentucky, and eventually to Stewart County, Tenn.
The cemeteries, neglected or abandoned after families died or moved away, vary in size. Some have just one grave, while one they hope to clean soon has nearly 200 graves.