Call it the ultimate irony, but the people who care for Augusta's cemeteries are dying out.
As families of the deceased either move away or pass away, cemetery supporters say 100 acres of downtown graveyards have been left largely untended.
A new nonprofit foundation, which will hold its first public meeting tonight, wants to turn that trend of decay around and turn Magnolia and Cedar Grove cemeteries from eyesores into attractions.
"Both of the cemeteries are so poorly kept," said Annette Bush, the chairwoman of the newly formed Historic Cemeteries of Augusta Foundation.
The foundation, which is an offshoot of the Downtown Development Authority, will mobilize volunteers and donors to help maintain and improve the burial sites - some of which date back more than 200 years.
"I really don't think it's the fault of anybody," Ms. Bush said. "I just think it's a condition of the times."
Tonight's inaugural meeting is open to the public and will be held in the Sanctuary of St. John United Methodist Church on Greene Street at 7 p.m.
Magnolia's first official burial was in August 1818, but the earliest marked grave is dated Dec. 24, 1800. Cedar Grove was opened after Magnolia as a cemetery for blacks. The earliest marked grave there is dated 1835, although no records were kept until 1840.
"Everybody says, 'I've been to Savannah for the cemeteries,"' Ms. Bush said recently. "We have as much, or more, than many other cemeteries in these two."
Carrie Adamson, the honorary president of the Augusta Genealogical Society, regularly gives tours of the downtown cemeteries and discusses the grave sites at regional genealogy seminars. She also is scheduled to make a presentation on the cemeteries at tonight's foundation meeting.
"There's so much interest in this area, but the cemeteries are a severely neglected point of interest," Ms. Adamson said.
"It is an art museum. It's also a history museum and a migration museum," she said.
Jerry Murphy, a city employee who oversees burial records at the cemeteries, said the 14-man crew that maintains the graves can't keep up with all the work to be done.
"Hopefully this is going to be able to help us," Mr. Murphy said. "We're just thankful for any kind of assistance. I don't expect it to work miracles, but it will help."
WHERE TO GO
The newly formed Historic Cemeteries of Augusta Foundation will hold its inaugural meeting at 7 p.m. today at St. John United Methodist Church, 736 Greene St. The public is encouraged to attend.
Reach Heidi Coryell Williams at (706) 823-3215 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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