Local fraternity dedicates time to graveyard project

The Inter-Mountain photo by Sarah Goodrich Fraternity brothers from Alpha Sigma Phi join Mayor David McCauley to accept a plaque proclaiming Dec. 8 to be Bobcat Day throughout Buckhannon for their efforts in the clean-up of the Heavner Cemetery.

BUCKHANNON — For years, hundreds of grave sites in Buckhannon’s Heavner Cemetery were left uncovered; however, for the past two years, brothers of Alpha Sigma Phi have dedicated hours to find the hidden tombstones.

So far, the West Virginia Wesleyan College fraternity’s community service project has led to the brothers finding several hundred graves, which were relocated during the development of Corridor H.

“(The) majority of the gravestones are unknown and were moved there when they created the new Rt. 33,” said Ali Youngblood, community service director for Alpha Sigma Phi. “We’ve uncovered about 700-900 gravestones since we started the project two years ago.”

During Buckhannon City Council’s Dec. 7 meeting, Mayor David McCauley said, “We believe many of these graves were probably from the slave era prior to the Civil War.

“It was not unusual back then for paupers and slaves to be buried in unmarked graves.”

McCauley explained that, in 1990, the city relocated many of the graves, and then reinterred the remains at a number of grave sites.

“They simply had a leveled placard, level with the ground that says ‘unknown’ and … that’s how we know there’s approximately 1,500 (uncovered graves),” said McCauley.

From 1990 to about a year ago, the city was not attentive with maintaining the graves, which have been covered for about 15 years, he said.

However, for the past two years, eight to 10 brothers of Alpha Sigma Phi have dedicated early mornings to participate in the cemetery clean-up.

Though the brothers of Alpha Sigma Phi chose to participate to reach their yearly goal in service hours, Youngblood said, “We enjoyed it and decided to keep up with it every semester. Whatever we can do to give back to the community that has helped our school so much.”

As a future goal, Youngblood said he hopes that DNA testing can be done on remains to determine who the person was. He also hopes that perhaps a committee can be created that can generate a database.

“I think it benefits the city of Buckhannon because it brings light to the issue and will hopefully get the public interested,” he said.

For the brothers’ dedication and hardwork, the city proclaimed Dec. 8 as Bobcat Day throughout Buckhannon.