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Alexandria was spared from significant flooding this week after remnants of Hurricane Ida swept through the East Coast. The only flooding found was on lower King Street in Old Town, where businesses laid sandbags at windows and doorways.

“We’re open inside, but if you want to eat you’re probably going to have to come barefoot,” a hostess at Mai Thai told ALXnow on Wednesday.

Our top story this week was, for the second week in a row, on the recent brawl inside Alexandria City High School.

It’s a three-day weekend, and on Sunday the annual Old Town Festival of Speed & Style will bring crowds to marvel at classic and beautiful rides along King Street. Monday is Labor Day, and the city will operate on a holiday schedule.

In this week’s poll we asked how satisfied readers are with Alexandria City Public Schools since reopening on August 24. A majority (31%) reported being extremely unsatisfied with the school system, while 29% said ACPS has done a good job, 25% are extremely satisfied and 14% are unhappy overall.

Important stories

Top stories

  1. BREAKING: Video shows brawl at Alexandria City High School cafeteria just two days after school starts
  2. 13-year-old hit by car while walking home from school in Del Ray
  3. Fox put George Washington Middle School into a lock-in today
  4. Man arrested for spending spree after finding wallet in Bradlee Shopping Center parking lot
  5. No injuries or arrests after shots fired on Duke Street
  6. ACPS Superintendent Hutchings asks community to hit the brakes on email campaigns
  7. Alexandria man arrested for beating up ex-girlfriend in Old Town North
  8. Alexandria sees cases rise in August and warns of COVID-19 in schools
  9. Alexandria man convicted for possessing child porn and violating parole
  10. Historic Black cemetery under threat of being washed away in Old Town
  11. Man swallows two bags of drugs and runs from police in Old Town

Have a safe weekend!

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Michael Johnson’s grandfather, Albert, died two months before Michael was born and is buried somewhere in Douglass Memorial Cemetery. Where he is exactly buried is unclear, since Albert’s gravestone and several others have been lost as recent flooding threatens to wash away a historic Black cemetery.

The cemetery has been a burial site for Black Alexandrians since 1827 and was named after Frederick Douglass after the abolitionist leader died in 1895. Records who that around 2,000 people were buried in the cemetery until burials stopped in 1974.

The cemetery fell into disrepair for a few years and the number of grave markers for those buried in the cemetery is already low. A city report says the number of well-defined graves is close to 10%, and the lack of intact vaults or caskets reflects the socioeconomic limitations of the families. It’s a situation Johnson said has been exacerbated by recent flooding, where some of the few remaining markers are disappearing.

“It’s been flooding for years,” Johnson said. “When I was a kid, we never heard of it flooding, and then the apartment building was built… Now it’s getting real bad.”

Among those missing are Albert Johnson, his brother Wallace “Jack” Johnson, and Michael Johnson’s uncle Alfred.

“I can only find three of the six headstone markers in my family there,” Johnson said. “Where are the rest of the people’s who are buried there?”

The city has faced frequent flooding over the last few years, including floods earlier this month. After some of the more recent flooding, Johnson said more of the grave markers have gone missing; potentially buried in dirt elsewhere in the cemetery.

There are some complications when it comes to fixing the problem, though.

A city archeologist noted in an email that a stream channel historically ran through the site where there are water problems today. Though the grass is cut and the trash is picked up by the city and the Office of Historic Alexandria, the archeologist also said the cemetery is technically abandoned and not owned by the city, which makes it difficult for the city to implement repairs.

Johnson said something should be done to preserve the memory and peace of those buried in Douglass Cemetery.

“It’s gotten worse,” Johnson said. “Cemeteries should be a sanctuary for where we respect and give the upmost attention to it.”

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(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.”

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