The Meriwether Historical Society met on Sunday, November 4th, 2012 at its headquarters building on court square Greenville. President Sallie Mabon introduced speaker Rev. Len Strozier to the members and guests who had come most interested in hearing about Strozier’s work of mapping cemeteries and preserving them for the future.
Strozier and his son Ben have mapped cemeteries all over the Southeast with two notable Georgia jobs being historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta and the Holy Spirit Monastery in Conyers.
Strozier’s work consists of scanning lots in two foot swaths to find graves using ground penetrating radar that is 85-95% accurate. The radar waves are read by a computer which can distinguish cast iron from concrete from clay pipe to the remains of a body. A grave, after fifty years of moisture and rot, often leaves a depression and always an air pocket. They flag these pockets, do GPS records of the latitude and longitude of each, upload them, and print maps of cemeteries. The records they produce are of three types: Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR), GPS, and GIS, Government Information Systems.
Many times they find forgotten graves buried under concreted driveways or parking lots. Seventy percent of the time graves lie with the head facing to the west and feet to the east. Strozier explained their interest in cemeteries not as macabre-appropriate for the historical society’s meeting date after Halloween-but really is a connection with history. Strozier’s first cemetery mapping occurred after he finished seminary and was in Bolingbroke, GA where he would eat his lunch in the cemetery and enjoy the quiet, contemplative atmosphere and the beautiful artwork of the grave markers. Recently, he finished scanning and mapping Milledgeville’s seventeen acre cemetery and found over 1230 unmarked burials. He also scanned a 100 acre cotton patch in Metter and found unmarked graves the owners had always heard were there. In Hartwell, GA the Stroziers mapped 1700 burials on seven acres.
Members of Greenville’s Cemetery Committee (John Norris, Mel Adkins, Tom Tigner) were in attendance and scanning and mapping Greenville’s 10.5 acre cemetery is of interest because of the ongoing necessary expansion combined with the desire not to dig into unmarked graves. The grassy area at downhill right when you enter the cemetery is thought to have indigent burials and slave graves. The historical society would like to record those graves and place a marker and memorial there. The original main entrance to the cemetery was probably elsewhere, but there are no records of it.
Strozier showed the group aerial photos and satellite images of the cemetery and member Jane Morrison explained the newest and northwestern most part of the cemetery was sold to the city by her mother during Mayor Bray’s first term as mayor. Having information like this is such a bonus when research and fact finding starts a project.
Strozier explained that unmarked graves may have a theological reason for being unmarked. Many poorer burials had wooden crosses which rotted or the graves were marked by field stones that were later removed for mowing. Slabs that are hard to read may be best determined by making etchings and recording the data. It takes him approximately five weeks to do 8000 marked and 1200 unmarked graves. Strozier’s costs run $2500 to $3500 per acre. An MHS committee of Jane Morrison, Lelia Freeman, and Diana and John Norris was formed to look into mapping the cemetery in affordable phases.
In other news the MHS chose to have its annual Christmas party at the Greenville Art Gallery possibly with Dimitri from the Greenville Café next door catering the event. Linda Dobbs passed on to the club the possible project of reprinting the History of Greenville 1828-1951 that several in the club were aware of as being a quaint collection of reminiscences of local events that was bound by ribbon somewhat like a bundle of old letters. Also the garden club asked that the historical society donate for the island maintenance that is being done weekly on court square. The club voted to give $200 to the $1600 project.