As the post’s volunteer Cemetery Sexton since 2001, Smith has overseen the caretaking for the cemetery, regularly mowing the lawn and trimming the grass around headstones, some of which have been long-neglected by families.
Smith is also responsible for maintaining the cemetery’s records, all kept in a myriad of books dating back to 1890 when the Oddfellows started it.
“The American Legion took over the cemetery in 1936 and were given all the books,” Smith said. “When I was looking over the records, I couldn’t believe how many graves were unmarked.”
Seeing the cemetery as a vital part of local history, Smith discussed the mystery of the unmarked graves with Chris Green, owner of Pacific Coast Memorials. In a joint effort two years ago, they decided to take action and see to it that the graves were identified and marked.
“I live in the community, and want to make sure that the people who have gone before us are remembered,” said Green. “Memorializing is a way to do that.”
With his family having been in the memorializing business for four generations and feeling the importance of creating permanent markings for historical purposes, Green offered to donate all the headstones for the project.
Upon investigation and researching the cemetery books, Smith found many names associated with the unmarked graves and learned that several of the people had been local miners at the turn of the century.
“The very first people buried at Pottersfield, a term used for the section of the cemetery designated for poor people, were mine workers who were killed in the gold mines at Monte Cristo,” he said.
Smith said that there were also many babies from the turn of the century who had been buried with no headstone. Some of the unmarked graves also date back to the depression-era when financial circumstances made purchasing a headstone impossible.
“It’s not easy work to locate and mark these graves,” Smith said. “I don’t really have much to go on. Some of the old records are incomplete and things don’t quite match up.”
Locating each grave takes considerable time and patience.
The ledger has the names and dates, but the location isn’t always perfectly clear.
Holding a handwritten ledger from 1890, Smith points to a name: Jery Turka, a man who died in 1905. No family member was listed as the person who ordered his burial. In lieu of a family’s name is Bob Griswell, a name that appears several times in the books. Smith suspects the man owned one of the mines.
“We can’t find any record of him though,” Smith said. “We’re sure he owned one of the mines, but there’s nothing about him in the museum or anywhere else.”
Over the past two years, Smith and Green have been able to create headstones for about 15 graves. Their goal is to create memorials for all the older unmarked graves, which Smith guesses is more than 50, documenting Granite Falls’ early history, starting with the mining community.
Smith is invigorated by the rich history found in the cemetery and as he walks around to each newly created headstone and he ponders the person’s life and death.