On June 20th, 2022 Dr. Thomas Jordan, and Dr. Jeffery Dick from Youngstown State University joined me and several AmeriCorps volunteers at the Old Hill Cemetery in Weston to start our long awaited Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) project to document the upper portion of the cemetery.
This technology is used to look under the ground and can be used to measure a variety of things. In our study we used a lawnmower-esque GPR machine to push across the landscape, dropping down to depths of 10ft, looking for adipose air. Adipose, commonly referred to as ‘fat’ in the human body, leaves a very specific signature of the GPR readings that can be used to detect human bodies at various stages of decomposition under the ground.
For our purposes, GPR was necessary to properly survey our cemetery and document graves in a location that had no headstones and no prior documentation. The reason for this is it was historically an African American Cemetery. This theory, formulated by Kristen Bailey and myself, was recently confirmed in an Oral History I conducted on African American history in the town and Lewis County more broadly.
The importance of documenting this section of the cemetery cannot be overstated. Preserving African American history in West Virginia is important to give voice to an underrepresented population. The volunteers who came out to help with this GPR project really made the difference in how much of this survey we were able to get done in one day.
A huge storm the night before knocked down several massive trees, blocking off some of the property and destroying some of the older headstones. With the quick action of our AmeriCorps volunteers, and local volunteers like Robert Weaver who came out to the cemetery last second with his chainsaw, we were able to move all the debris and completely survey the area of the cemetery we had planned to go over.
While the results of this survey are still being gone over by the professionals at Youngstown State, no doubt the findings will be monumental for the preservation of African American history in our county. Without the time commitment and resources from Drs. Jordan and Dick, the manpower from our AmeriCorps volunteers and the quick thinking of locals like Mr. Weaver, certainly none of this would have been possible.
Jamie Billman served as a Preserve WV AmeriCorps member for the Weston Historic Landmark Commission during the 2021-2022 program year.
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