February 27, 2015 11:09:52 AM
Andrew Hazzard - [email protected]
One hundred and seventy-two years and one day ago, Friendship Presbyterian Church opened its doors in Columbus. They began burying their dead there, too.
Ten years later, in 1853, the church moved. The cemetery stayed.
Today, Friendship Cemetery is perhaps the city's most famous, and certainly most enduring, landmark, named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
It is home to around 22,000 graves, according to Mike Anderson, the city employee who serves as the cemetery's director. That's up from 18,000 in July 2013. The 70-acre space still adds graves, mainly to its newer section, but because family plots are handed down through generations, Anderson said there are many people who don't even know their family has a plot.
A single-grave plot at Friendship Cemetery goes for $900. The more graves in your plot, the less each grave costs. Families can buy plots of up to 10 graves. A 10-grave lot costs $3,450.
When one buys a grave plot at Friendship Cemetery, one is buying that plot for eternity. Anderson said the graves receive "perpetual upkeep" from the city.
Anderson said recently a person called the city. Their parent had died and been buried in another state. Unknown to the departed's children, the family had bought a plot in Friendship Cemetery 34 years ago. When they found the deed to the plot, they wanted to know what to do with it. But after the original sale, the city is out of the process, according to Anderson. The family can either keep the deed for the future or sell it. They must notify the city if the registration status of the deed changes.
Although there is a newer section of the cemetery where most recent headstones are added, Anderson said there are those still being laid to rest amidst the nearly 1,500 Civil War veterans who inspired the original Memorial Day.
"It's filled up as far as being sold, but not as far as graves being occupied," Anderson said of the old section.
Tourists trickle into town to see the cemetery. Events such as Pilgrimage and the annual "Tales from the Crypt" event put on by students at Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science attract people to the hallow ground. Anderson said he fields calls from people tracking down ancestors.
Chuck Yarborough, a history professor at MSMS whose students perform Tales from the Crypt, tracks down many ancestors for his students to research every year. Yarborough said this year he selected 109 names from those laid to rest at Friendship Cemetery for his 68 juniors to chose from. Sometimes, he walks through the cemetery and picks people who died before 1930 at random to add to his list. Students must find information and write research papers on a person from Yarborough's list. He said information can be found on nearly all of the names he finds, with one or two students needing to change subjects due to lack of information. He attributes this to the historical passion of Columbus and the records data base at the Columbus-Lowndes Public Library.
"It comes from the partnership of a community that valued history, preserved the cemetery and preserved historical documents," Yarborough said.
There are now 22,000 graves in Friendship Cemetery. With more available every year, Tales from the Crypt has the potential to carry on for generations to come. All of those people have a story. All of those stories are a part of Columbus.
"That person is a window through which we are looking into the past," Yarborough said.
More windows are added to Friendship cemetery every year.