How do you find unmarked graves in a cemetery that hasn’t been used for 90 some years?
You hire Scott Field to do it.
This past week, Field, a mapping specialist with Georgia based Omega Mapping Services spent time at the old City Cemetery in Seymour.
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Founded in 1816, the cemetery, which is located along State Road 11 (North Ewing Street) was used for 111 years. It was originally owned by the Shieldses, Seymour’s founding family.
Many of those who were buried in the old City Cemetery were later moved to Riverview Cemetery, less than a mile north, according to cemetery records. By 1927, most burials in Seymour were taking place at Riverview.
The St. Ambrose Catholic Cemetery, which is on the north side of the property, is still used occasionally for burials and is maintained by the church.
In his first couple of days on site, Field completed the initial step in the mapping process. As he walked the entire eight-acre cemetery, he slowly pushed a ground penetrating radar or GPR device in precise rows, working from north to south.
He keeps track of how many steps he’s taken on the job.
“I’m up to 15,791 steps today,” he said.
GPR is a method of viewing what is buried underground without having to dig.
The 3-wheeled GPR device resembles professional lawn maintenance equipment, but instead of cutting grass or applying weed killer it sends radio waves into the ground, as deep as 30 feet. For the purposes of mapping the cemetery, Field was only going seven feet deep.
As the waves bounce off underground objects, a receiver displays the reflected wave signal showing Field if something is buried there. He then marks the spot with a little orange flag.
“This is a pretty wide open area, so it’s been fairly easy work,” he said. “Anytime you have more burials that are right next to each other with a headstone, that gets in the way of what I do.”
The favorable dry and warm weather conditions also played to his advantage.
“That’s why I decided to come this time of year,” he said. “We try to plan our jobs around the weather.”
After quitting their full time corporate jobs two years ago, Field and his wife now travel all across the country in their RV mapping cemeteries and other properties for Omega Mapping.
By the time he was finished with the process early Friday morning, the evidence of his work could be seen by the more than 160 orange flags dotting the cemetery’s landscape, denoting unmarked graves. It was estimated there are more than 400 total internments in the cemetery.
The next step for Field, which he began Friday, is to collect GPS/GIS satellite data to record precise coordinates for all the burials detected both by GPR and the existing headstones.
Once that work is completed, all of the information will be compiled into a digital and printable map showing the location of both marked and unmarked burials. A cemetery roster also is created as part of the project.
He hopes to be done by Oct. 18.
In some cases, Field has located markers including headstones and footstones, but no GPR indication that it is a burial plot.
“Where did they go? I don’t know,” he said. “I can see that there was a burial but they’ve moved them, but I still have to mark the headstone because it’s there.”
He was even able to locate and uncover a few buried markers with help from city workers.
“It’s fun to find those,” he said.
The city is paying Omega $20,407 for the service in an effort to protect existing burials and preserve the cemetery for the future.
Cemeteries are valued as historic resources for genealogy and are evidence of a community’s settlement patterns, historic events, religions and lifestyles. But without regular upkeep and maintenance, a cemetery is at risk of deteriorating from weather, neglect, construction and vandalism.
The City Cemetery contains the headstones of Seymour’s most notorious sons, Frank, Simeon and William Reno, the brothers who led the Reno gang to commit the world’s first train robbery in Seymour in 1866.
Field said the stories he gets to hear, like that of the Reno brothers, is his favorite part of his job.
He was unable to map the area where the Reno brothers headstones are located because it’s fenced in, he said.
“I was told they were buried together in a single tomb under some stone or concrete,” he said.
In one area he was mapping this week, he located something and had city workers come out to dig a little.
“I couldn’t see exactly what it was,” he said. “But it’s a 16 foot by 16 foot anomaly so I wanted to see what was underneath. It ended up being rocks. It could be burials underneath that I don’t know about.”
He suspects it could be where the Renos are actually buried.
Preservation of the cemetery isn’t the only motive behind the project.
The GPR mapping also is needed to open up the cemetery once again for burials.
That idea came to light after Seymour native and retired city clerk-treasurer Fred Lewis requested to be buried at the cemetery when he dies. Lewis served as the city’s clerk-treasurer for 28 years before retiring at the end of 2019.
With enough ground available for an estimated 4,000 burial plots, the city could generate $1.6 million for the parks and recreation department by selling plots for $400 a piece. The parks department is responsible for mowing and taking care of the cemetery.
“There is a lot of return to this investment because there is a lot of money to be made here,” Field said.
Tom Melton, who used to work near the cemetery before he retired and would often walk around it during his lunchtime, said he applauds the city for taking care of the cemetery and wanting to protect it.
He stopped by a couple of times Thursday to talk to Field as he worked.
“I find it very interesting,” Melton said.
But he’s not sold on the idea of burying a lot more people there because the expenses the city will incur. Melton helps with the upkeep of the Catholic cemetery.
“They would need to add fencing and roads or paths through here so people can access it,” he said. “And it would require a lot more maintenance so they would probably have to hire someone to manage it.”
No less than 10 to 12 people came by Thursday to talk to Field, he said, to find out what he was doing.
One man stopped and pointed out his grandfather’s burial site.
“He was probably in his ‘70s, but he walked with me the length of the cemetery twice, just talking to me and talking about the cemetery and his family,” Field said.
Another man shared a story about using a GPR while he was in the army to find bombs.
“He said two of the bombs went off,” Field said. “What I do is a little less scary. I don’t know the people who are buried here, but it’s very rewarding to find them and to help prevent someone or something from being buried or built on top of them.”