DAMASCUS YSU professor leads solemn task at cemetery site
Unmarked graves in a Quaker cemetery are being moved to make way for a church expansion.
By STEPHANIE UJHELYI
DAMASCUS -- The gravediggers exhuming the bodies in Lot 17 of the Damascus Friends Cemetery do so with utmost respect.
Dr. John White, chairman of the Youngstown State University department of sociology and anthropology, is leading the exhumation of more than 100 bodies with the help of his staff, students and community volunteers.
Since March 31, Saturdays have been spent digging and measuring to find those buried in the cemetery, which had no grave markers.
The cemetery is being moved to free the land for additional parking as part of the Damascus Friends church's $1.3 million expansion project.
The church is adding a multipurpose room, kitchen, elevator, restrooms, library, offices and additional educational rooms.
According to Joyce Steer, secretary of the Lot 17 Cemetery Committee, "No one ever wanted to blacktop or build [on Lot 17], because we knew there was a cemetery."
The process: Exhuming the cemetery isn't just a matter of digging in the ground, White explained. A lot of care and effort has to be taken to ensure that this cemetery's residents are not disturbed.
Steer said the cemetery, which has no visible grave markers, was measured, and then it was calculated where the graves should be located.
The workers then dig around and under remains to bring them to the surface as intact as possible.
"It is done with the utmost respect," Steer said.
Based on information taken from gravekeeper's records, which show burials as early as 1807, officials estimated that 60 people were buried in the cemetery.
However, White said it turned out to be more; she didn't have an exact number but said it was more than 100. It is undetermined how long it will take to complete the exhumations.
Once the bones are recovered, they are bagged and transported to Youngstown State University, where they are cleaned and evaluated.
After sorting, the bones then will be reburied at the newer Damascus Friends Church Cemetery on Valley Road.
Documentation of the reburials will be returned to the church, and copies will be housed at the Damascus Area Historical Society.
Books: This "lost cemetery" will be included in a book published by the Ohio Genealogical Society for the bicentennial in 2003. The book documents all cemeteries in Ohio.
Youngstown State University also is making a 90-minute TV documentary about the work at the cemetery. White also plans to write a book on the dig.
For updates on the Lot 17 cemetery dig, visit www.damascusfriends.org