Five boys walk down the middle of some railroad tracks, in search of someone lost to the community. This isn’t the plot of 1986s “Stand by Me,” but rather part of a project organized by one of the boys to clean up a cemetery abandoned for over a century.
Tavion Eyerman, 16, first heard of the old Mount Sterling burial ground from a friend in February. Interested in history, he investigated the grounds out of curiosity. After getting lost he found the hidden spot.
“It was overgrown, vines covering everything up,” he said. “Most of the headstones were buried. In the back corner, that one, Mary Alkire’s grave.”
Evermore curious, Eyerman looked up information on the plot. He found that it was the family cemetery of the Alkire family, with Jacob, Mary’s husband, being the second person to settle the area. Eyerman said the documentation was sparse and some photos were decades old at best.
“There were some color photos of it and [the cemetery] was in basically the same condition it was when I found it,” he said. “I want to say early Twentieth century but my guess is whenever color photography became practical.”
Seeing the disarray of the spot and the history having perked his interest, he decided to ask the Pleasant Township Trustees as well as the graveyard trustees for permission to rehabilitate the grounds. While the trustees technically own the long abandoned cemetery, it’s nestled between privately owned lands.
One land owner was uncomfortable with Eyerman crossing through the area while another permitted him to walk through. However, this individual’s possession was only accessible by walking past the railroad tracks, requiring permission from the Madison County Sheriff’s Department. After all of the red tape was settled, he finally started in May.
Clearing the site
Eyerman started clearing things out on his own, working during his free time in between his obligations for school. Progress was slow and the process, while enjoyable was stressful.
So, he decided to ask friends from church and school to help. Montana Spaniol, 14, was interested and enlisted his brothers Colton, 13, and Dawson, 11, to come help clear the area. Lincoln Hunt, 11, decided to help out as well along with Eyerman’s brother Triston, 16.
With Eyerman’s direction and planning they methodically removed the overgrowth, cut down trees and dug up headstones buried after years of negligence.
Montana jokingly refers to himself as the brawn of the group, but he says everyone put in as much as they can.
“I’m very close to my brothers so it all works out for us,” he said.
Eyerman said he was highly appreciative of their help.
“Honestly, I think we’ve gotten pretty far for three to four weeks of work,” he said. “I have to say without these guys, it wouldn’t be like this.”
The Young Archaeologist
Most of the headstones were broken and knocked down when Eyerman and his friends first arrived. With sparse records to go by, the young history buff had to make conjectures.
“The records said there were only 10 graves here,” he said. “We found 16 stones.”
While a few were still visible, the majority of the stones sunk into the soil. To find them Eyerman used a simple metal rod and poked around.
“I was worried we might hit a casket as I think they didn’t go as deep with burials like we do now,” he said. “We’ve been lucky so far.”
Many of them were in pieces or had plants growing out of them.
Two stones are completely blank due to years of erosion.
Only one stone was entirely intact and it was one of the newer ones, relatively speaking.
“This one is Jinney Martin’s as you can see here. It says she was the wife of Abraham Alkire,” he said. “Passed away in 1862. This one was buried under a tree and the roots had grown around it. We’re lucky to have gotten it out. Unfortunately, there were some scratches but it’s still all in one piece thankfully.”
Eyerman has been able to trace back records of who most of the people buried here are thanks to records from the Mt. Sterling Community Museum. He thinks it’s possible more people were buried or that the stones were in radically different positions.
“I’d have to imagine they were in rows,” he said. “The way they’re spread out just doesn’t make sense.”
Eyerman said he’s enjoyed working on the old Alkire family cemetery, but he wants to work on other local cemeteries in the future.
With that goal in mind, he wants to work the best he can on the century-old plot. Using money given to him by the trustees, he’s bought shovels and other tools to clear out the cemetery.
“I hate asking the trustees for money,” he said. “But we need the tools.”
He’s hoping to get some mix to put the headstones back together and soil or other materials to potentially flatten out the land, which was become very uneven.
The group hopes to remove stumps from the trees they’ve cut but they don’t want to disturb any caskets.
More ambitiously, Eyerman wants to see if they can either get a machine or a professional with a device that can scan what’s underground so they have an idea of what might be buried underneath.
Next week, he plans to ask permission to borrow a golf cart or some small vehicle to help transport tools to the site so they don’t have to walk along the tracks and through a makeshift trail anymore.
Eyerman said that donations are graciously accepted and can be sent to the Pleasant Township Trustees hall at 84 N. London St., Mount Sterling, OH 43143. The township holds meetings every first and third Monday each month at the hall at 7 p.m.
Maximilian Kwiatkowski can be reached at 740-852-1616, ext. 1617 or on Twitter @MSFKwiat.