GREENFIELD — Marciann McClarnon loves to discover the stories behind the headstones in the county’s historic cemeteries.
The age-old stories of mothers and fathers, friends and families, who crisscrossed the countryside for any number of reasons, stopping to build their homes in Indiana. They probably never thought of themselves as pioneers and surely never imagined the Hancock County that exists now, with its growing neighborhoods and bustling streets.
Perched on a gravestone in Caldwell Cemetery, McClarnon paused to take a break. She and other members of the Hancock County Cemetery Commission have spent weeks readying to invite the community onto this ancient plot of land.
Saturday, they’ll turn the old cemetery into a living museum, complete with actors dressed in period costume, to celebrate local history and tell the stories of the folks buried there long ago. Commission members have spent countless hours preparing.
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It was like cleaning the house before a big party, McClarnon remarked — and she wants everything to be perfect.
The Day of Caring at Caldwell Cemetery, a burial ground located four miles east of Greenfield on U.S. 40, will be from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday.
The event’s purpose is twofold: to educate the public through interactive family-friendly (and not too spooky) activities while inviting families to help preserve the past through a day of community service at one of the county’s overlooked historical sites.
With limited county funds allotted each year for preservation efforts, the Hancock County Cemetery Commission has taken on the task of restoring and maintaining all 92 known pioneer cemeteries located in Hancock County in tribute to the county’s early settlers.
And in an effort to entice members of the public to lend a hand, the commission has organized an event that combines fun and volunteerism.
Activities and events include:
- A living museum: Actors from Greenfield-Central High School Thespian Troupe 2691, dressed in period costumes, will talk about the lives of those buried in the cemetery.
- Experts on hand: Historian Cindie True will be on the grounds to answer questions about the cemetery.
- Grave rubbings: Materials will be available for those who want to take home a cemetery souvenir
- Clean-up crews: Cleaning supplies for gravestones will be provided to anyone who wants to help in the efforts to restore and preserve the cemetery.
The purpose of the Day of Caring, McClarnon said, is to highlight the county’s pioneer cemeteries, many of which have fallen into disrepair and receive little attention, while inviting the public to have a hand in their clean-up.
Pioneer cemeteries are those that were established before 1850, McClarnon explained. Each local pioneer cemetery is the resting place of as few as 10 or as many as 200 souls. The cemeteries can be found behind farmhouses, in clumps of trees, near churches or in a field.
“Their relatives are mostly gone, and the best they can hope for is to be mowed three times a year,” McClarnon said.
The Day of Caring been designated as a Bicentennial Legacy Project by the Indiana Bicentennial Commission. The commission, which has led the state’s 200th celebration of statehood, designated events across Indiana this year as Legacy Projects, which highlight Indiana history.
Helping with the cemetery restoration project is all in a day’s work for Doug Dagley, Scoutmaster of Boy Scout Troup 293 out of Charlottesville.
“We try to do all kinds of community service,” Dagley said. “We just try to do different things that are good for our community.”
The commission’s task of locating pioneer cemeteries is made easier with the help of a comprehensive guide book, “Hancock County Indiana Tombstone Inscriptions: One Hundred Years, 1833 – 1933,” written by Sue Baker.
The book, which has recently been reprinted, lists all known pioneer cemeteries by township, complete with photos, histories and an index. Copies of the book will be on sale at the Day of Caring.
McClarnon’s interest in preserving the cemeteries dates back to riding in the backseat of her grandparents’ car for Sunday afternoon drives to visit all of the relatives buried in Hancock County.
McClarnon said. “I learned so much about genealogy — all nice pieces to a puzzle for me.”
The county’s cemetery commission is inviting members of the public to a living museum event that celebrates local history while encouraging attendees to help preserve it. Re-enactors dressed in period costumes will be on hand to talk about the lives of those buried in Caldwell Cemetery, and families will be invited to make grave rubbings and talk with history experts. Participants may also help clean the cemetery in order to preserve the history for future generations.
Where: Caldwell Cemetery, 4511 E. U.S. 40
When: 9 a.m. to noon Saturday