Doing more to protect our local cemeteries

Johnson City Press • Dec 20, 2017 at 12:00 AM

Vandalism at one of Johnson City’s oldest cemeteries earlier this year has sparked a campaign to protect the property. In February, more than two dozen headstones were toppled at West Lawn Cemetery, a predominately African-American cemetery dating back to 1902.

Many grave markers were broken and flowers from several graves were tossed about.

The cemetery is the final resting place of James Johnson, the city’s first black doctor. Hezekiah Hankal, who was also a prominent doctor, educator and the first black person elected to a municipal office in Johnson City, is also buried there.

West Lawn’s board of directors have been able to get some trees and stumps cleared along the circle of the cemetery road. Press Senior Reporter Becky Campbell also reported earlier this week that the board has installed two signs detailing the expected conduct of visitors to West Lawn and the cemetery’s hours of operation.

It’s not just vandalism, however, that plagues some of our areas’s oldest cemeteries. Age and neglect are also problems.

Earlier this month, we reported on decrepit headstones and unkept graves at a cemetery near Tipton-Haynes Historic Site. A neighbor told Press staff writer Brandon Paykamian she was appalled by the condition of the burial grounds.

“Somebody needs to rake this and bring it up to date,” Edda Boyer said. “It’s terrible. We noticed a 9-month-old baby buried here, and the stone here is broken.”

It’s amazing how often this newspaper hears from local residents who say the grave of a loved one has been molested. Most of the complaints concern flowers and their vases taken from the cemetery. Other residents report having found headstones overturned or otherwise vandalized.

It’s up to the living to protect the dignity of the dead by preserving their final resting places. Unfortunately, for caretakers of many local cemeteries, this work represents a constant struggle against time, nature and vandals.

If you see any unusual activity near a cemetery, don’t hesitate to call 911 and report it.

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