Post Content

Archaeologists Searching for Hidden Graves in Local Cemeteries

(Updated at 3:20 p.m.) While Alexandria heads out on ghosts tours for Halloween, local archaeologists are busy scouting for secret burials under two historic cemeteries.

Archeologists with the city’s Office of Historic Alexandria are working to pinpoint where coffins and headstones may have been swallowed by the changing landscaping in the Penny Hill and Douglass cemeteries as they plan drainage maintenance for the sites.

“In a couple places you see the very tippy tops of headstones just barely peeking above the dirt and you realize that there’s an entire headstone sunken in 2-3 feet. So you look around and go ‘Oh my god this entire cemetery is slowly sinking into the ground,'” Benjamin Skolnik, an archeologist with the city, told ALXnow of the issues facing the two cemeteries.

“A lot of the markers were probably made of wood and have since decayed and evaporated into the mists of time,” he said, adding that others buried in the Penny Hill potter’s field often couldn’t afford a marker.

Fixing the drainage issues at both sites causing could mean digging ditches — and right now that would be impossible without disrupting lost burial sites.

Penny Hill was founded in 1796 but start records only date back to 1912. Those records indicate 906 people were buried in the last century, but today cemetery is an empty, grassy field.

And at Douglass, where records indicate the first person was buried in 1895, there are about 650 standing headstones, but over 1900 names recorded in burial records.

“There’s three times the number of people written in the cemeteries as there are standing headstones, so the question is where is everybody?” said Skolnik.

This summer, the state awarded Alexandria a $10,500 grant to study what graves could be underneath the grass at both cemeteries. Now the survey work is underway as teams of archeologists rove the grounds with ground-penetrating radar (the same kind used to find dinosaurs) and electrical conductivity meters to identify burials by the metal hinges on caskets, the shafts dug to bury caskets, as well as skeletal remains or headstones.

Initial data from Douglass confirms some areas with no standing stones do have graves underneath, and in some cases, more than one grave.

“We know that they were selling what they referred to as “half-graves” which is basically that you stack them,” explained Skolnik. “The first one goes down 8 feet. The next one goes down 4 feet.”

The surveys haven’t gone without a hitch, however. Yesterday (Tuesday’s) rain storm cancelled one day of work, and nearby utilities can interfere with the equipment.

“We ran into a small problem on Saturday when we started our survey at Penny Hill,” said Skolnik. “The southeast corner of Penny Hill is right next to a power substation [which] was playing havoc with the sensitive instruments.”

The surveys are in addition to the Alexandria archaeologists’ other responsibilities, including examining possible remains and objects buried under development sites — work that led to the excavation and reconstruction of several long-buried ships.

“It’s probably not a surprise that there are lot of archeology resources in Alexandria,” said Skolnik. “There’s a lot going on under the ground.”

Recent Stories

Carpenter’s Shelter has been awarded a $2.5 million grant by the Bezos Day 1 Families Fund, and plans to use the money to rapidly re-house homeless Alexandrians. The $2.5 million…

Alexandria is planning for a transit-oriented overhaul of Duke Street, and city staff connected to the project told an advisory group earlier this month that rumors about eminent domain being…

Got your kilt ready? Alexandria’s Scottish Christmas Walk weekend is back. Former City Councilwoman Del Pepper will take center stage as the grand Marshal of the 51st Alexandria Scottish Christmas…

A new seven-townhouse development could be coming to a West End lot between I-395 and Stevenson Park. The development, though much smaller than other nearby proposals, is part of a…

High School Senior Anxious about College Life? Our amazing graduate interns, Meghan Damminger and Kelly Charwat are starting an affordable College Readiness group in early 2023. Working out day and time. Please email [email protected] to set up a free consultation after the Thanksgiving holiday. And yes, Meghan and Kelly have a few openings for individual clients as well. Their rate is $45 per session. [www.sarahmoorelpc.com](http://www.sarahmoorelpc.com/?fbclid=IwAR3ZlfQnSLVRCc78HbTZutDYZErTctC_5pl- zt4eo_wjQo1gF6uHS–k32g).

Submit your own Community Post here.

Monarch Montessori School, located in the education center at 218 East Monroe Avenue, is currently enrolling infants and toddlers for the 2022-2023 school year. We’re an authentic Montessori preschool with a STEM emphasis!

We Offer: Arts & Crafts, Yoga & Pottery, Language & Early Literacy, Botany & Culinary Arts, Music Appreciation, Chorus & Language Immersion, Mathematics, Geography & Science, Practical Life & Culture.

Full-time, part-time, flexible and drop-in options!

RATES

Read More

Submit your own Community Post here.

Brassy Jazzy Christmas

Don’t miss this toe tapping celebration!

The Symphony Orchestra of Northern Virginia (SONOVA) presents “Brassy Jazzy Christmas,” a strong lineup of Christmas and holiday favorites. Inspired by Stan Keton’s album “A Merry Christmas!,” SONOVA has created a jazz band–substituting french

Alexandria’s 47th Annual Turkey Trot 5 Mile Race

Join in Alexandria’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition- the 47th Turkey Trot 5 Mile Race. Alexandria’s favorite Thanksgiving morning tradition, the Alexandria Turkey Trot, returns to the streets of Del Ray on Thursday, November 24 at 9 a.m. In the spirit of

×

Subscribe to our mailing list