Unknown, forgotten could be recognized at historic Macon cemetery

While historic Rose Hill Cemetery is the place where political luminaries, war veterans and famous musicians have been buried, efforts there could soon help remember the forgotten.

Two companies are offering to find unmarked burials and map out the gravesites at the Riverside Drive cemetery, where former Civil War soldiers, ex-mayors, governors and former Allman Brothers Band members Duane Allman and Berry Oakley were laid to rest.

But while many of those gravesites are appropriately marked, there are likely hundreds of others whose locations are unknown.

Finding and marking the burial sites would involve using special equipment and software tools that would come from Omega Mapping Services and Legacy Mark, two companies that recently made presentations to the Macon-Bibb County Commission.

Omega owner Len Strozier said he would not be surprised to find 800 to 1,400 unmarked burials in the Oak Ridge section, where numerous paupers and slaves were buried. Overall, there could be more than 2,000 unknown plots throughout Rose Hill, he said.

The mapping would also allow Macon-Bibb to determine where open spaces are there so others can be buried inside the cemetery. The mapping process would likely take at least 10 months to complete.

One tool that would be used is a ground-penetrating radar that is like a “sonogram” on wheels. It emits signals into the ground that can pick up disturbances.

“Rose Hill is a wonderful cemetery, full of beautiful architecture, historical significance,” Strozier said. “It could become a centerpiece and destination, and a lot of new burials could take place there.”

In the Oak Ridge section, there may have been wooden markers on some graves that are no longer there. In many instances, there were never any markers identifying the sites, said Kim Campbell, preservation and education coordinator for the Historic Macon Foundation.

“Going there now you only see half the story,” she said. “You see the soldiers buried there but don’t see why the Oak Ridge section matters.”

That Oak Ridge section likely has many bodies that are buried on top of each other. Those buried in Oak Ridge deserve their proper recognition, including their role in helping shape Macon, she said.

“We talk a lot about the builders of Macon, but those aren’t the people whose hands built Macon,” Campbell said. “I think (mapping Oak Ridge) offers a great opportunity to tell the stories of the slaves that built the city.”

Rose Hill’s history dates back to 1840, and over the years several dedicated areas to the cemetery were created. Those areas include Catholic and Jewish sections as well as Soldier Square, where many Civil War soldiers were laid to rest.

The cemetery was and still is a place where visitors reflect and take in the beauty of the land, Campbell said.

“It’s a type of cemetery that’s laid out in such a way it follows natural topography, with created dedicated park spaces,” she said.

Rose Hill’s situation is not unlike many others across the nation where discrepancies have occurred as management changed over the years. With many cemeteries using paper records, some information gets lost over time, Legacy Mark owner Robert Mills said.

The Pennsylvania-based company takes old cemetery records and new information from Omega to create an up-to-date, accurate database. Those office records, including maps and paper records, are digitized and outlined based on satellite images.

Commissioner Virgil Watkins said he found the capabilities offered by Omega and Legacy Mark to be interesting.

“It’s a great use of technology to allow them to catch up on centuries of data,” said Watkins, who represents the district where Rose Hill is located.

Stanley Dunlap: 478-744-4623, @stan_telegraph