Eastern Kentucky University geography professor Dr. Dan Weir is looking forward to spending time in an abandoned cemetery. Weir developed a project for mapping and identifying the 200-plus burial plots in the Old Soldier’s Cemetery as part of a renovation effort.
Weir, along with EKU geography students, Boys and Girls club members and Richmond Rotary club members, used Global Positioning System (GPS) units to map the site and determine the position of the tombs.
“We are mapping it to find out who is buried here, and where,” Weir said.
The Old Soldier’s Cemetery has housed tombs of Black soldiers and war veterans for more than 130 years.
The cemetery has lacked proper maintenance for several decades and was abandoned to decay and vandalism. Now, nearly two-thirds of the headstones are missing, and the number of people buried at the site, as well as the identity of many, is unknown.
Weir is hoping that, by determining the latitude and longitude of each existing headstone and plotting it into a map of the cemetery, the group will be able to fill in the blanks as to the location of the unmarked graves.
Part of the project involves talking to area residents about whether they have family or friends buried there.
“A lot of blanks can be filled by people’s memories,” Weir said.
The restoration group is also collecting information on the shape, design, patterns and inscriptions of the headstones.
“We’re trying to piece together the history of the cemetery,” said EKU geography professor Dr. John Grimes.
Ryan Burns, senior geography major at EKU, entered all the data into the computer using the Geography Information System (GIS), which uses the information to plot a detailed map of the site.
The mapping project is part of a larger initiative to restore the Old Soldiers Cemetery. Sean Quinlan, interim executive director of the Boys and Girls Club in Richmond, said the idea came about in May 2004 while he was searching for a community service project for the club.
“I wanted the kids to give back to the community and learn history at the same time,” Quinlan said.
— Associated Press
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