Cemetery finally receives proper markers

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A cemetery that was once lost in the history of Lawrence County has now been marked so it doesn’t happen again.

On Thursday, Dr. David Lucas, an associate professor of communication studies at Ohio University Southern, unveiled granite stones that will mark the burial places of miners who died during the flu epidemic in the early 20th century.

“There are 10 markers for adults, two for youths and one marker to mark the entire cemetery,” he said.

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Buckeye Monument Company said that they were donating the stones.

“That’s great because we didn’t know they were going to do that, so it was a very wonderful moment for us,” Lucas said.

The cemetery, now called Sacred Hills, was rediscovered by undergraduate students from Ohio University Southern who were doing a research project called “Porter Gap: A Microcosm of Appalachia.”

The location of the cemetery was lost after the miner’s families moved away and was only discovered after a number of interviews and fragments of records from the early part of the twentieth century were used.

In 1916, recruiters from the Hanging Rock Mine Company went to Cincinnati and brought back 26 black families to work in the mines.

According to the data collected by Lucas and his team, many of those families were originally from South Carolina and Georgia. They gathered in a narrow valley now known as LaGrange Hollow.

Then, in 1918, their lives were altered as the Spanish flu swept through the region.

“We think anywhere from 12 to 26 of these people died,” Lucas said. “Men, wives and children.”

At the time, families didn’t understand the cause of the deaths, so bodies were hurriedly buried on a nearby slope, and the area was vacated soon afterward.

The researchers kept coming across references about a cemetery on Porter Gap Road where at least 12 African-American miners were buried after they died during the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1917 and 1918, which killed millions worldwide.

In April 2006, they found the cemetery up a steep hill near Route 650, they discovered a single gravestone marked “Mills” under an inch of dirt. The cemetery was dedicated in May.

Lucas said he believed that families with the last names Hall, Gordon, Mills and Kelly might have loved ones buried in the cemetery.

Dr. Dan Evans, the dean of OUS, called the project similar to laying a rumor to rest since without records about the cemetery, it was just word of mouth that it even really existed.

Porter Gap: A Microcosm of Appalachia” is a two-year project with another year to go.

Evans said that this particular find, which became national news and was even on CNN, is the kind of thing Ohio University tries to do.

“OU President Roderick J. McDavis has suggested that regional campuses can demonstrate national prominence through exemplary service to their community,” he said. “This is a perfect example. By our faculty and staff being highly engaged with the community, it resulted in the rediscovery of a long-lost African-American cemetery.”

Evans said there might be additional evidence of the miners hidden in places like family Bibles and court documents.

“One of the things that this does is bring up more questions that we can find answers for,” he said.