Uncovering an abandoned graveyard
Not everyone uncovers old abandoned graveyards in the woods next to their house.
But, that’s just what Gary Sands has been doing.
When Sands, of Photos by GT in Blue Earth, moved in next to the West Verona Cemetery marker, just outside of Winnebago, he decided to start keeping the grass around it mowed.
The marker is just on the other side of Sand’s property line, but he thought it would be nice to keep the area clear for anyone who wanted to visit the old cemetery.
“When we first moved next to the cemetery, about 35 years ago there were stones still standing,” Sands says.
He didn’t pay much attention at the time but some time later, he realized a lot of the stones had disappeared.
“I?decided to start mowing paths a little farther out from the marker,”?Sands adds.
It was then he started to discover a little more than he had expected.
“I started hitting corners of something just barely sticking out of the dirt,” he says.
Whenever he would find another one he would mark it with a flag, returning later to uncover his findings old headstones. “There’s a lot of history out here,”?Sands says. “The last name on the main marker is from 1917 and it hasn’t been used since.”
Some of the stones he uncovered are names listed on the marker; other stones are worn and he can’t make out what they say.
“One stone I found just says COS,” he says. “I’m not sure if it stands for something or if other letters are just worn off.”
Sands has been trying to do a bit of research on the history of West Verona Cemetery.
“There aren’t any records of this cemetery,”?Sands says. “There was at one time but the person keeping them lost them in a tornado years ago.”
Sands hopes that checking around and finding more out about some of these forgotten grave markers will lead to someone else who might be able to help him piece together the information.
“This is not my area of specialty,”?Sands says. “I like to do this because I like helping the people who do find an interest in this.”
He is still finding new grave markers, in fact he just found another stone with a name from the list on the monument.
“It’s funny because there is no telling where you’ll uncover another one.”?he says. “It’s almost like they saw a nice tree over there and said ‘let’s put one there.'”
Back when the cemetery was used, they didn’t use plots and there isn’t a map of where the graves were placed. That makes it hard for Sands to predict where he might find something next.
“I also found out through my research that there were a bunch of people buried out here in a hurry during a flu epidemic,”?Sands says.
In cases like that, some of the people may not have even gotten a proper head stone.
“Some people are very interested in their family history,”?he says. “One family visited and five of the names on the main marker were from their family.”
The people that stopped were from Wisconsin and were related to the Adams family noted on the marker.
“They told me that if I found out more to call them and they would drive the 500 miles to come back and help,”?Sands says.
It’s helping people like that find out more about their history that keeps Sands interested in continuing this project.
“It would be nice to have someone who knows a little more about this kind of stuff that could help me make sense of it,”?he says.
Sands, at this point, is mostly concerned with preserving what he’s found until he can find someone who knows more about the history.
“A lot of these stones are already cracked or broken in half,” he says. “I just need to make sure I?preserve these the best I can.”