The onset of autumn brings many things: changing leaves, cooling temperature, fall sports, and the cemetery project. In the last few weeks, high school juniors have visited, walked around, and taken notes and pictures in various cemeteries – particularly Greenbush Cemetery. The cemetery project has been an annual project for Miss Anthrop’s 11th grade history class since 1980.
Though quiet and seemingly unchanging, cemeteries offer and contain a great deal of history. From the history of the rural cemetery movement of the 1830’s and 1840’s, to the symbolism and artwork on gravestones and monuments, cemeteries can give a snapshot in time of a community. The students are able to have a hands-on experience of history and learn about the built environment and context of Greater Lafayette through visiting local cemeteries.
“History doesn’t just come from a textbook. If you are conscious of it, you are much more appreciative of it. You become aware of other things around you,” said Anthrop. “A cemetery can lead you to do research on a lot of different projects.”
The cemetery project is broken out into three parts:
- Field study – visiting the cemeteries. The students look for various headstones or people such as soldiers, significant people, or family plots. The symbolism, type of stone, and inscriptions also tell the students a lot about each person and the history surrounding them.
- View the records of interment. These records are kept by the cemetery board and show vital records of a person: date and place of birth and death and what they died of. This gives a snapshot of the health of the community as well as an idea of the immigration to the community at the time.
- Research. The students learn how to use microfilm at the library to view old newspapers and obituaries.
These three pieces of the project introduce the students to primary sources and how to do research. The students also learn about the local community, and since they work with others on the project, they learn about time management and how to work in a group. And for the students who live near a cemetery, it gives them an opportunity and a reason to check out the cemetery down the street.
One current junior, Lucy Ayala, was surprised by how much she enjoyed working on the cemetery project. She visited three cemeteries: Greenbush Cemetery, Springvale Cemetery, and a small cemetery near her house.
“I had a lot of fun,” said Ayala. “I enjoyed the fact that we were having a good time and spending time in a cemetery. It would normally be spooky, but it was kind of cool.”
She was able to learn new things such as being able to identify who a person was, where they lived, and how wealthy they were just by reading their headstone. Using microfilm was also a new experience for her.
The cemetery project is also something that many alums remember well. Shane Weist, class of 1999, explained that although he was not enthusiastic about the project while he was in high school, it has stuck with him. He remembers learning about the different symbols on a gravestone that indicated someone’s membership to a different organization or group such as the Masons or the National Woodsman.
“It was more of getting the work done than being observant,” said Weist. “I’ve always loved history but hadn’t tied the two together.”
Unbenounced to him during his teenage years, this interest in history eventually led Weist back to cemeteries. He is currently on the Greenbush Cemetery township committee, which works to clean and repair headstones and to generally restore the cemetery. Through this, Weist has run into current high school students at the cemetery.
“I go up and help them and further explain,” said Weist. “It’s been fun helping them learn about the cemetery and the history. It’s been a neat crossover.”
What do you remember about the cemetery project?