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Internet expands protest over old cemetery

April 30, 1999|By SCOTT BUTKI

Descendants of those whose bodies may be disinterred from a cemetery on property slated to become a Washington County landfill have been using genealogy and historical sites on the Internet to exchange information and organize opposition.

Washington County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said he has been planning the move for five years, but several descendants of those buried in the small private family cemetery said they did not know about the county's plans until they read stories about it last week in The Herald-Mail and on the newspaper's web page.

Relatives and other interested parties began posting information about the stories and the proposal on genealogy Web sites for the three families believed to have the most members buried in the cemetery: Wachtel, Stine and Troup.

Information also went up on sites for the German-American Society, the Daughters of the American Revolution and Sons of the American Revolution and cemetery preservation groups.

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Relatives quickly began using e-mail lists and other Internet sites to contact possible relatives of people buried in the cemetery and make them aware of the situation, said Antoinette Waughtel Sorensen of Tacoma, Wash.

Sorensen said she was upset to learn that the county plans to move the bodies. Waughtel is one of several spellings of the Wachtel family name. Her distant ancestor is John Wachtel, who in 1797 purchased the property on which the cemetery is located, she said. A 1996 archaeology report commissioned by the county said that Wachtel was probably buried in the cemetery.

"This was their land and they designated to use it for this purpose. To be kept together. Family cemeteries should be left intact. They should not, nor should any other cemetery, be disturbed," Sorensen said in an e-mail message.

To avoid decreasing the capacity of the planned Lund Landfill the county wants to move the 40 to 50 bodies believed to have been buried there between 1825 and 1856. The number of people buried in the cemetery may be as low as 17 since most grave markers are now unreadable.

The cemetery is on a portion of the landfill property in a major depression.

Working around the cemetery would reduce the landfill's lifespan from 80 years to about 50 years, Rohrer said. The cemetery is in "deplorable" condition and needs to be restored in some way, he added.

Rohrer proposed reinterring the bodies in new graves on Independence Road, at the western edge of the landfill. A memorial would be placed near the new graves, Rohrer said.

Some relatives, such as Emmert Stine of Falling Waters, W.Va., oppose moving the bodies at all, but others say that if the graves are moved they should be put in another existing cemetery.

Sorensen, Dorinda Shepley of Frederick, Md., and Judith Goodwin of Winter Park, Fla., said they would not have known about the controversy if not for the Internet.

Shepley said she heard about the cemetery controversy when information about it was sent on an e-mail list about genealogy in Frederick. Some of the 600 readers of the list began exchanging e-mails offering their opinions about the county plans, said Shepley, whose two sons are direct descendants of John Wachtel.

Goodwin said she used the Internet to find relatives in almost every state in the nation and keeps in touch with many of them. She helps people find relatives by showing them how to use genealogy sites. Her ancestor is Henry Wachtel, the brother of John Wachtel.

"Was I upset that my pioneer ancestors' final resting place was to be moved to the west end of a dump?" she asked. "And in 80 years they will probably be forgotten under tons of garbage."

Rohrer denies the new cemetery will be under a landfill cell.

"If there is absolutely no other land in the state of Maryland, that could be used for a landfill, then I believe the bodies, even the remaining stones, etc., should be moved into another cemetery," Goodwin said.

At its April 20 meeting, the Washington County Commissioners signed an agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers establishing rules the county must follow when moving the bodies. The Corps of Engineers, which must approve some needed permits, required the county to sign the agreement before landfill development could proceed.

Under the agreement the County Commissioners must approve an "archaeological data recovery plan" by June 2003 even though the bodies may not be moved for another five to 10 years, when the landfill cell will be constructed there.

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