I had to run an early-morning errand today, leaving the house while everyone was still sleeping. On the way, I passed two graveyards I’ve often meant to explore. With no plans scheduled until later in the day, and expecting that everyone would probably still be sleeping at home, I promised myself I would stop on the way back home.
Perhaps exploring graveyards early on a sunny Saturday morning isn’t your idea of a way to treat yourself, but it’s a favorite pastime of mine. One of my earliest blog posts detailed my discovery of White Oak Flats Cemetery, hidden away behind the touristy main drag of Gatlinburg. I’ve also briefly shared my visits to the final resting places of some of my ancestors. There is an old cemetery in front of the church where Lorelei played Upward Basketball this winter, and the last morning we had a game I made sure to take a look at it. My 14-year-old nephew, looking at the graves with me, said, “I don’t like cemeteries. They remind me of my mortality.” But I love them, and I tend to think more of immortality when I’m in one.
See, as long as your name remains visible on a stone, and as long as someone comes by to read the names, and wonder about the people who bore them, how they lived, why they died–you are still a part, albeit a small one, of the living world. It’s important to me, that these dead people be remembered. That the living remember where we come from. Maybe that’s also why I enjoy genealogy.
I don’t care so much about visiting the graves of loved ones I knew in life; I have other ways to remember them. But visiting the gravesite of a long-dead relative is different, providing a tangible connection you did not have before.
But I digress. None of my Tennessee ancestors settled in North West Knox County, so I did not expect to see any of them today. I did hope, though, to come across a familiar name or two–people who once lived where now there are only roads bearing their names and making them still familiar to us. My first stop was at Byington Cemetery, and rather obviously Byingtons are prominent residents therein. But besides the cemetery, the Byingtons left their name on two nearby roads that I often travel: Byington-Solway Road and Byington-Beaver Ridge Road.
Unlike the bucolic locations of the graveyards in Union County where so many of my ancestors are buried, the Byington Cemetery looks lucky to have escaped relocation, like many older cemeteries. It’s at the corner of Oak Ridge Highway and Emory Road, at the Karns red light, and is surrounded by commercial development, unfenced, unmarked.
My second stop was at the cemetery next to Ball Camp Pike Baptist Church, which is quite close to my house. According to my son, this cemetery is frequently visited by ghost hunters and is reputed to be very haunted. But I don’t believe in those kinds of ghosts.
The interesting thing about this graveyard is that it has been in used since 1820 and is still active today, with the most recent interment I found taking place in 2007. However, despite its status as an active cemetery, it’s in a sorry state of repair. Many gravestones were mostly unreadable, even ones that dated as late as the mid 1900s. Several were knocked over and broken, even while others bore recently placed Christmas wreaths.
Due to its status as a church cemetery, this was much larger, and has a fence around the front and barbed wire hidden in the woods on the non-church side. It’s on an extremely steep hill, and surprisingly if you make it all the way up there you’ll find that people live up there, their homesites apparently only accessible via driveways at the back of the church lot.
All other considerations aside, I like graveyards because they are beautiful and peaceful. Usually it’s just me and the dead folk. There’s a reverence in the air, and there’s nothing wrong with considering sometimes that we all came from the same place and are all going back there one day, but that whether, how, and for how long we are remembered will depend on what we do while we are here.