Editor’s Note — To celebrate National Historic Preservation Month we’ve asked several individuals and organizations from around the state to tell us what preservation means to their community. We hope you find inspiration for your next preservation project from these stories.
By Michael Leamy
With clockwork regularity, meteor showers fill the night sky with brilliant displays, as insignificant particles blaze into oblivion in a variety of journeys. Some go unnoticed, veiled by clouds, overpowered by the brighter light of the full moon, or ignored by the uninformed. Some flash quickly in a brief streak, linger in an after-image, and vanish into nothingness. Some streak, slow and luminous, in a long-burning fireball that leaves a glowing contrail, but that, too, soon fades into the darkness.
Such are the generations that have gone before us. Their members made their meteoric journey across their sector of our history, blazed with their allotted brilliance, and faded into memories. Some lingered in thoughts, or documents, or tales, until the teller of tales joined them, offstage, and the documents crumbled. Photographs of those once well-known among circles of friends and acquaintances are now labeled “unknown pioneer.”
In many cases, even the end of their journey has been swallowed up by time and nature. Graves painstakingly marked with a hand-carved slab of wood, a stone stele, or a cairn of gathered rocks, have been overlaid with a blanket of duff that has mouldered into soil. Entire cemeteries have vanished under the forces of neglect, disinterest, or, in some cases, under the uncaring hand of what passes for progress.
Voices of protest and concern now call for rediscovery, restoration, and preservation of the missing chapters of our story. Willing hands carefully remove the thick blankets of neglect, restore the final notes of memory, and preserve the waypoints that remind us who we are, how we got here, and where we are headed.
The work has only begun. More voices must be heard, and more hands applied to the task. May is Preservation Month, and an appropriate time for commitment, or re-dedication to the ceaseless work of clean-up, repair, restoration and the on-going upkeep of our pioneer cemeteries. With Memorial Day here, could there be a better time to add your voice, and your energy?
Michael Leamy is a member of the Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries.