Some states give special protection to abandoned cemeteries. Others have no such statutes. And regardless of whether there may be enabling legislation protecting the cultural resources that such places represent, there are plenty of examples throughout America where development results in desecration. My sister working in Eastern Kentucky heard stories about big coal exercising mineral rights purchased during the Depression from rural Appalachian families under their family cemeteries,
But what if this were your family? Genealogist Ruth Coker Burks has found what she believes is the open and desecrated crypt of her great grandmother - exposed during the draw down of a lake created by a residential developer in Arkansas during the Depression:
My family has been looking for 60 years for tombstones that had been thrown in Lake Hamilton from our family cemetery; a land developer did this during the Great Depression and sold the land to rich folks from out of town so that they could build houses on the new lake... I have looked for the tombstones all of my life and today I found what I believe to be my great grandmother, Mary Etta (Mollie) Gardner Clay’s tomb... She was the only person buried in this lost cemetery that was entombed...The lake was lowered this winter and today I walked the shore and found this...
In Arkansas, the Department of Arkansas Heritage has responsibility for the state's cultural resources. Its Arkansas Historic Preservation Program has responsibility for identification, evaluation, registration and preservation of the state's cultural resources and is the first call Ruth should make tomorrow morning during normal business hours. (501)324-9880 or info@arkansas preservation.org.
I have not found the specific state statute that gives this agency its mandate, nor which may apply to abandoned cemeteries, but that agency would know.
When the Commonwealth of Massachusetts inundated the better part of four rural towns to create the Quabbin Reservoir and slake the thirst of Metropolitan Boston, it moved the cemeteries. The developer of this lakeside community in Arkansas had a family cemetery to contend with and apparently tried to obliterate it.
Thanks to Sheri Fenley for bringing this sad and shameful situation to our attention.