PHOTO IS OF MACK HESTER
BLADENBORO — Beneath leaning hardwood trees, among brush and briars, the dead rest peacefully in an overgrown graveyard in Bladenboro.
Surrounded by a mobile park, the Dymetrol manufacturing facility and a few homes, the unkept burial grounds are overlooked by many — except Mack Hester.
“This place needs a major cleanup operation,” Hester said, cautiously stepping through the mixture of bramble and young trees.
Hester recalled his Boy Scout days in the mid 1940s when the cemetery was host to a community service project.
“We used to keep it up in those days,” said Hester, recalling a different landscape nearly 70 years ago. “It’s a shame to let something like this go. It’s sort of like a landmark.”
The half-acre land is owned by Lee Guy, owner of the neighboring mobile home property, and Jeffrey Lewis, owner of Lewis-Bowen Funeral Home.
“My father acquired it from the Bladenboro cotton mill and, when he died, I inherited it, Lewis said. “I’ve been in the funeral business for 40 years, and I don’t think we’ve ever buried anyone there.”
While the age of the cemetery is unknown, the headstone dating back the furthest belonged to G.L. Graham, 1856-1913 — making the final resting place for many at least nearly a century old. The last burial to take place in the cemetery was for Carlie Strickland in 1980.
“Now, I remember Carlie Strickland,” Hester said. “He would saw up wood slabs for people to burn and I would help with that.”
Among other familiar gravestones is Snowden Hester, whose plot is identified with a faded, miniature American flag. The Rev. Snowden was one of the three founders of the First Baptist Church of Bladenboro in 1911.
With scattered headstones ranging from monumental to small and unmarked, it is difficult to determine just how many people have been buried in the overgrown graveyard.
“I would think there might be more than 60 people buried out here,” said Hester, surveying the wooded burial grounds.
And on stone after stone was engraved the recurring phrase, “gone but not forgotten.”
“That’s a mistake,” Hester said. “It looks like somebody HAS forgotten them.”