They’ve been there since long before he was even born and Edward Welshman is worried the people buried in an abandoned Mout Moriah cemetery will be competely forgotten if something isn’t done.
Welshman grew up living with his grandparents and uncle on Serpentine Road in Mount Moriah. He now lives in Corner Brook, but owns the Mount Moriah homestead after his uncle died last year.
The large piece of land surrounds a small plot where only the most meagre evidence of it ever being a graveyard still exists.
One headstone with rusted wire fencing around it — indicating where 22-month-old Shirley Stella Wight was buried upon her death Aug. 16, 1924 — is out in the open now that some of the brush has been cleared away. A short walk into the thick alders reveals another tall, thin headstone. This is where 10-year-old Sarah Ellen Stone was laid to rest there after her death April 22, 1916. Another short jaunt through the bushes leads to a third fenced-in headstone struggling to stay erect. This one belongs to Seth Ellsworth, who died May 27, 1915 at the age of 27.
It quickly becomes obvious there are likely many more people buried at this site, but where they are and who they are is impossible to tell at the moment. If their grave markers are still there, they must be hidden below the vegetation that has taken over the grounds.
For years, Welshman has felt an obligation to try to maintain the site. He has cut down trees and brush on his property leading to the graveyard and is in the process of trying to make another access linking more directly to Serpentine Road.
“To have trees growing up on top of dead people, and little kids especially, with nobody taking care of them is a total sin,” said Welshman.
According to Welshman, there is at least one person buried somewhere outside the perimeter of the graveyard. He recalled his grandmother telling him that, when she was a young girl, a little boy had to be buried outside the cemetery because all of the burial plots within it had been filled.
“There’s more than three people here,” said Welshman. “The place is full and it’s not a small graveyard either.”
The cemetery is the property of the Salvation Army, which has not had an operating corps in Mount Moriah for the past five or six years.
Welshman would like the chuch or the Town of Mount Moriah to step up and help do the job he has been tackling on his own for several years. He said he has shown the site to former Salvation Army majors posted to the area before, but nothing seemed to have ever come of their visits.
He has also approached the town, but has not had any indication from the municipality about it getting involved.
“I’ve told friends the story and have brought them up to the graveyard and it has brought tears to their eyes to think of these little children being forgotten,” said Welshman. “It’s the most beautiful spot and there is something here that people are missing out on. It’s Newfoundland heritage and Mount Moriah’s history.”
No one from the Salvation Army Temple in Corner Brook was available for an official interview this past week, but secretary Linda Rideout indicated families usually take on the responsibilities for maintaining graves of relatives. She guesses there’s simply no one left to do that for the people buried off Serpentine Road.
Like the state of many of the graves now, Rideout said the paper trail of the burial records from nearly a century ago may not be easy to find.
Welshman said there were two older women who used to travel to the site from the mainland to maintain at least one of the graves on the site, but he has not seen them around in a decade or more. He figures they have either died or are just no longer able to make the journey back.
Mount Moriah Mayor Joe Brake said the previous council, of which he was a member, was aware of the cemetery and the need for it to be cleaned up, but admitted not much has been done about it. He said the new council elected last fall has already discussed the issue and is committed to seeing work done on the site this summer.
He commended Welshman for the job he has done on it so far and promised help will be coming, whether it’s from the Salvation Army or from the town itself.
“Myself and three other councillors were up there last week,” said Park. “We’re on board to do something with this if the Salvation Army is not going to do anything.”
Park said the town has grants to provide summer employment for a couple for students and, along with the town’s maintenance employee, they could be tasked with helping unveil the mysteries of the abandoned cemetery.
“By the end of the summer or the fall, we hope to have that cleaned up either by us or by the Salvation Army, and have it in somewhat of a good state of repair,” said Park. “It is a part of our history and disrespectful to the people buried there not to do something about this.”
Welshman and Brake would also like for anyone who has any information about the history of the site, particularly who else is buried there, to come forward. The information could all help to one day help provide an interpretation to this buried part of the town’s past.
“I wouldn’t want my kids to be there like that years down the road with nobody taking care of them,” said Welshman. “Somebody must know something about this graveyard in my backyard.”