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Cemetery or graveyard?


June 12, 2019
A while back I was listening to our local radio station and the DJ asked a question to which he wanted someone to call with the answer. I felt I knew what the answer would be, and, sure enough, the answer given was what I thought they would say. The question was, what is the difference between a cemetery and a graveyard? The answer they gave was that a graveyard is often beside a church, while a cemetery is usually on its own.

I have pondered this difference for many years, having researched many of our local burial sites along with dictionary definitions. Wikipedia says: "A graveyard primarily refers to a burial ground within a churchyard." Webster New World Dictionary describes a graveyard as "a resting place, burial ground, or cemetery." They define a cemetery as "a place for the burial of the dead; graveyard." Cambridge defines graveyard as "a place where dead people are buried." Merriam Webster defines the graveyard as follows: "1. As a cemetery, 2. Something resembling a graveyard as an automobile graveyard." Dictionary.com describes a graveyard "as a burial ground, often associated with smaller rural churches."

The Greeks anciently used the word "cemetery," which was said to mean sleep of death. The word "cemetery" was used around 1300 by the early Christians for a burial ground. The old English name for cemetery is Licburg.

Now that we have reviewed the definitions by Webster, Cambridge and others, let's look into this locally. At the Old Leavenworth burial site, the deed exception is for one acre for a "grave yard." There was no church involved. Not far out of Leavenworth a graveyard was established in the early 1830s. A church was not built next to it until 1939.

At the old Davenport burial site, the deed defines it as a graveyard with no church involved. The Goodwin-Wilbur burial site across the road from Cedar Cemetery calls for a family graveyard 54 feet square, again no church involved. The Old Shaffar burial site is about a quarter-mile from El Bethel. In the deed, it calls for 1-1/2 acres for a graveyard, again no church involved.

At the Borden Cemetery, Levi Borden deeded a tract of land to the public cemetery except for paupers, again no church involved. Near the Town of Leavenworth's new sewer plant is the Elizabeth McNaughten site, which calls for 40 feet on all sides of her grave, again no church involved. At Fredonia, the Thoms platted a burial site with, I believe, 34 lots originally. The lots were 16 and 18 feet wide by 24 feet long, sold for $7 and $8. At the top of the plant is Fredonia Graveyard.

At Leavenworth, the Sharps deeded a tract for a public graveyard in 1911, and again no church involved. Down on Turkey Fork, the Beals family deeded a tract of land for a public meeting house and burial ground forever. This was a foot-washing Baptist church. At Pilot Knob, my Great-Great-Grandmother Bowman buried her husband behind the house in 1873. In 1874, she was deeded one-half acre of land for a burial ground. This later became Pilot Knob Cemetery. Mr. Everdon, in his will, left a tract of land six rods square for a public burying ground next to Everdon Chapel EUB Church. He was the first burial in the burying ground.

Across the county road to the north is the Old Tower Burial Site. The 1889 addition to the burial site relates tying to the Old Tower Graveyard. Part of the addition included the Bethel School. This log structure was used as a school and a church school in the early years. An acre of land was placed in reserve for the Pegg Cemetery. This acre also included an old log church which later became the first Mansfield Church. Memorial Gardens is the newest in the area, and is deeded, platted and recorded as a town-owned cemetery.

Are we confused yet? When I get a call from a funeral home or a family, they request a cemetery plot. When I get a call from a funeral home stating so and so has passed away, they ask if I will mark the grave of the deceased so they can call the grave digger so they can open the grave. As soon as I get the grave marked, I contact the grave digger so they can open the grave. When the monument works calls me to mark the deceased's grave at such and such cemetery, this is done and they place the monument (usually locally noted as a grave marker or tombstone). One thing that is almost always certain is the grave is dug west to east with the head of the grave to the west looking to the east for the Lord coming. This is a very old custom.

There is a popular auto restoration show on TV called "Graveyard Carz." Many junkyards, or places for old, abandoned autos, are also called auto graveyards. English and Americans alike refer to abandoned aircraft as bone yards.

Ben Franklin more than 250 years ago stated one of his famous quotes: "Show me your cemeteries, and I will show you what kind of people you have." All of you have read many obituaries, as I have back to the 1830s, and I ask have you ever read one with an interment in So and So Graveyard? Have you ever read a sign when entering a burial site as So and So Graveyard?

After all this, the definitions, the deed descriptions and the obituaries, I believe there is no difference. They are just a temporary stop-off. We need to go to one more source, the greatest source, the Bible: "So man lies down and does not rise till the heavens are no more. The dead do not rise from the grave until the heavens are no more."

When will the heavens be no more? "The day the Lord will come in which the heavens pass away." The heavens pass away on the day of the Lord, when Jesus returns to the earth. Until then, the dead do not rise from the grave. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.

This is all that matters, that we are in Christ, and we will rise from this temporary stop-off.

David W. Wilkins is a historian from Leavenworth.

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