When Mining Destroys Historical Cemeteries

Mountain top removal (MTR) mining has transformed the landscape of Appalachia, making gorges where mountains once were. MTR is a form of surface mining that extracts coal from mountain summits and ridges. The non-coal part of the mountain, referred to as “overburden,” is bulldozed into neighboring valleys. Sociologists James N. Maples and Elizabeth A. East describe MTR as “total ecosystem destruction.” Certainly the practice has tremendous environmental costs, particularly in terms of poisoning local water sources, flooding, and as the coal is burned, global warming. But as Maples and East reveal, MTR also has a cultural cost: this kind of mining erases the history of the region by destroying historic mountain cemeteries.

You can read more in an article by Matthew Wills in the JSTOR Daily web site at: http://bit.ly/2JnPsqW


Not just mountaintop removal, but development in general. Here in Kentucky the cemetery laws are so loose that even the state highway department can bulldoze cemeteries without impunity. Within just a few miles of where I sit there are two cemeteries that have been destroyed, and the remains have NOT be re-interred elsewhere, the gravestones often simply buried in the excavation. The law requires re-interment, but that is almost never enforced.

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This makes me sick. I’ve visited many cemeteries in the U.S. and Europe. They’re special places. Last summer we found a small family cemetery I’ve looked for for years. Over grown by decades of plants and trees, the souls buried there were people. Family. To be respected. Have we become so greedy that we forget where we came from? So greedy that we must destroy the past?


In 1796, my 4th great grandfather, Hugh Murrin, bought a piece of land some 50 miles north of Pittsburg, PA, and started a farm. A village grew up around it which is today called Murrinsville. Four generations grew up on the farm, and members of the first two generations are buried in a small plot there. When the farm was eventually sold to a mining company, it was with the restriction that the one acre enclosing the burials be maintained as a cemetery. That covenent has been kept. I have visited those Murrin graves twice. The last time in 2007. They are very well maintained and not overgrown. I did my part to pull weeds when I was there, and I’m sure others do to. This was on my dad’s side of the family.
On my mother’s side, my third great grandmother, came to California with her extended family on the Oregon and California Trails. She arrived here about 1859, newly widowed. Within a year she married William Skaggs and lived at the Skaggs Springs Ranch in Sonoma County. William died in 1890 and was buried with others on the ranch. When the U.S. Army Engineering Corps built the Lake Sonoma Reservoir in the 1980s, they reinterred all the burials including their stones and other memorials in the Geyserville Hill Cemetery, about 10 miles away. They are all interred in the same order as the burials were at Skaggs Springs. So preservation can be accomplished. Too bad it doesn’t happen everywhere.


Several decades ago an open cut hard rock mine (ie extracting metals, not coal) was developed over a cemetery in NSW – sif my memory is correct the most recent burial in it was several generations prior to the mine development.
Careful investigation to find individual gtraves was required, and remains were moved to a replacement cemetery.
An ancestor of mine was a left-wing activist and became a member of the NSW state parliament about 115 years ago. He was buried in the Old General Cemetery, Coonamble in 1906. That has since been closed and all graves moved to a new cemetery that is not in the middle of the town.


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