Project would collect cemetery facts

A Marietta City Councilman hopes a project to accurately catalog and map the city’s graveyards leads to increased interest and, down the road, funding to make improvements in those cemeteries.

“I want to save our beautiful historical cemeteries,” said Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward. “I think eventually the money will follow the interest. But we could use a quarter million dollars in Oak Grove Cemetery alone.”

The high-speed wind storm that struck the area last summer toppled trees, damaging markers and causing other problems in Oak Grove, the largest city-owned cemetery. And Kalter said that just contributed to ongoing issues caused by erosion and freezing and thawing.

“The cemetery stones are literally migrating across the cemetery,” he said. “Now they’re not moving 100 feet a day, but they’re moving.”

Burial records are stored in the cemetery office, where the roof “is totally shot,” Kalter said. There are records spread around the city in other places but no definitive, central resource.

On some occasions, cemetery workers spend a lot of time helping people find graves instead of performing other tasks, Kalter said.

“It’s pretty near impossible, particularly in Oak Grove, to find what you’re looking for,” said Marietta College junior Alicia Wright, noting the uneven layout of that cemetery compared to the more geometrical patterns in the Harmar and Mound cemeteries.

Wright, of St. Marys, W.Va., is one of more than a dozen volunteers aiding Kalter in the effort, which is not costing the city any money. She was motivated to sign on as an unpaid intern because of her interest in cultural preservation, she said.

Her job is entering data from city records on burials in Oak Grove. So far she’s made it to the late 1930s. Wright admits the task can be a little dull at times but said it’s “worthwhile.”

“It’s a nice peek into (the) history of the area,” she said.

A class led by Marietta College Professor Bob Van Camp will design software to help with the effort, and server space has been secured by local genealogist and historian Ernie Thode through the local genealogical society, Kalter said. The goal is to have the information available online, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Since the group started meeting, Kalter said he’s been contacted by individuals suggesting including the Old St. Mary’s Cemetery, maintained by St. Mary Catholic Church, and wanting to see the project expand beyond the city. He’s even been contacted by a resident of British Columbia looking for information about a relative buried here.

With the area’s rich history and general interest in genealogy, Kalter said he could see the effort one day drawing people to the area.

“This could be an incredible tourism draw,” he said. “And that’s where the money comes in.

“At some point, we could literally be making beautiful maps of the cemeteries that people would … buy,” Kalter said.

The group is also working to establish a fund with the Marietta Community Foundation to accept donations to help with the data-recording and eventually repairs to the cemeteries.

“I’m just not real optimistic we’re going to have an extra hundred thousand, two hundred thousand lying around in the city,” Kalter said.