Sunday, April 22, 2001

Old-time graves restored

By Kimberly Hefling
The Associated Press

        GOLDEN POND, Ky. — Armed with gardening tools and even a dowsing rod, former Land Between the Lakes residents and other volunteers descended on a 1940s cemetery containing 400 graves moved when Kentucky Lake was formed.

        Thick brush at first surrounded many of the graves believed to contain blacks — possibly slaves — many of whom lived in the 1800s. Metal markers placed at each of the graves by the TVA were bent in various directions and barely legible.

        The group's task: clear the brush and place stone markers at each grave.

        Restoring St. Mary's Cemetery on the Tennessee side of the LBL and some of the LBL's 250 or so other cemeteries is a job the members of Between the Rivers Inc. don't take lightly. They meet nearly every Saturday in the winter months to do so, avoiding the summer months because of ticks and snakes.

        The organization is one of two main private groups that work at LBL to preserve cemeteries.

        “We feel all graves should be respected and protected,” said Ray Parish, president of Between the Rivers.

        The federal government used powers of eminent domain in the 1960s to buy and tear down houses, businesses and community buildings to create the LBL.

        Many former residents say they are drawn to the cemeteries because they are some of the last reminders of the communities that existed before about 700 families were moved out of the area.

        “It's our heritage,” said Della Oliver, a former resident and member of Between the Rivers. “It's all we have left of what we are as a community. Everything else has been taken away.”

        About 60 to 70 cemeteries at the LBL are regularly maintained. On Sundays beginning in the spring and lasting into the summer, various groups sponsor homecomings at the cemeteries with potluck suppers that attract former residents from hundreds of miles away.

        Even when LBL was created, many of the cemeteries — some dating to the 1700s — had been forgotten because there were no remaining descendants in the area.

        Only about 30 of LBL's about 250 cemeteries contain more than 100 graves. More than half have less than 10 graves and are just small family plots.

        Some of the graves contain babies or small children buried near an area where the mother or family member could keep watch over them by looking outside, said Sylvia Canon, who along with her husband, Beale, lead another LBL cemetery restoration group called Rescue Our Cemeteries.

        Members from both groups say they have found graves of white settlers and veterans from nearly every war including the Revolutionary War, but also those of black slaves and Chinese immigrants who worked in the region's iron furnaces.

        The TVA mapped many of the cemeteries in the 1960s, but sometimes used identification markers such as farms or houses that were later torn down, Mr. Canon said.

        Kenny Fralicx, a member of Between the Rivers, sometimes uses a dowsing rod to help find the graves. He walks above an area where there are believed graves, and the dowsing rod, usually used for locating water, dips if there is a coffin underneath the ground, he says.

        LBL, an inland peninsula in western Kentucky and Tennessee about 90 miles north of Nashville, was formed when the Cumberland and Tennessee rivers were impounded to create Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley.

        It was a federal demonstration project managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority to show how a parcel of land could be converted into a recreational area.

        Many of the former residents are still bitter that the government forced them off their land.

        They believe creating a recreation area — now visited by 2 million people annually for activities such as hiking, boating and camping — was not reason enough to take their property.


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