THE DISAPPEARING CEMETERY
I penned the following article in 1997, when a very important part of the history of the old cemetery at Turkey Creek was being made. Read the article and then you will know what happened. Oh, I almost forgot. There was also a book written about the disappearing cemetery. I will share more about the book after you read what happened to cause the cemetery to disappear.
THE DISAPPEARING CEMETERY
East of Tellico Plains, in the Turkey Creek Community, about 300 feet off the beaten path of Highway 165, high upon a ridge, overgrown with trees and bushes, there is located a small cemetery. This cemetery holds some significance for the Self family as well as a handful of other families. There are Self relatives buried in the (all but forgotten) burial ground.
One could walk over the few graves that are in this cemetery and never be aware of it. Granted, it is neglected, but it is still sacred ground. Practically anyone who has lived at Turkey Creek for any length of time knows that it exists. The exact number of people buried there is known only to God. The old-timers claim there are about six buried there, ranging in age from infants to adults. The cemetery dates back at least 75 years, perhaps farther. Up until a couple years ago, one could find small fieldstones protruding out of the ground to mark the graves.
Most, if not all of those stones were pulled up and cast aside awhile back in an attempt to try to destroy any evidence that a cemetery actually existed there. This selfish act was done by the owner of the property, who learned of the cemetery after he acquired the land acreage. This vandalism is upsetting to the people in and around the Tellico Plains area, who have family members buried in the cemetery.
The ordeal became a legal issue when the property owner retained an attorney to try to get a judgment in his favor and put a stop once and for all to the claim that the cemetery should be left undisturbed. The case went before a judge in Madisonville.
The property owner, who was represented by counsel, won the case. The defendants, or the relatives of the deceased individuals buried in the cemetery in question, were represented by one family member, a man who has a sister buried in the cemetery. No attorney was present to argue the case for the relatives. The judge ruled that there was no evidence that a cemetery was on that ridge at Turkey Creek. There was or IS evidence. The problem is that it was never presented to the court. The plaintiff's attorney was loaned a copy of a video tape that had been shot of the cemetery stones a few months earlier. She reviewed the tape, but never bothered to let the judge see it. This would have been substantial evidence to help the sole defendant possibly win the case. Victory was not to be.
It was an open and shut case in the favor of the property owner. To put it simply, in the eyes of the law there is no cemetery on that ridge at Turkey Creek, even though almost everyone if not everyone who lives around there will testify that there is a cemetery on that ridge. The cemetery IS there and saying it does not exist just does not make it so.
I have been there and seen the stones with my own eyes. I was given a personal tour of the cemetery by one of the old-timers. The cemetery most definitely does exist on that ridge, in spite of what the courts and the property owner say. The human remains of approximately 6 to 8 people do rest under the rich, mountain soil in which that certain property owner claims he can do whatever he desires with it.
It was a little disturbing to me to learn that all of this had taken place. It is aggravating to think that some of our history could be destroyed like this and even be approved by the judiciary. Things like this just seem to reflect the day in which we are living. After thinking over the matter a bit, I have come to a conclusion.
I do wish the cemetery had been left undisturbed. I wish the stones were still erected there just like they were placed by our forefathers long ago. The fact that they are not does not mean there is no longer a cemetery there and that those buried there are completely forgotten. It does not matter either that only a handful of people have visited the graves over the past 50 plus years. Those final resting places deserve to be left unharmed. The fact that some uncaring individual chose to remove all traces of the cemetery markings will have to be accepted it seems. This is okay. The cemetery is still there. There is only one way to change that.
The only way to change the facts would be to exhume and move the dead who are buried there and that is not likely to happen. By doing such a thing, the property owner would be admitting that there is a cemetery located on the ridge. He is not about to admit that. This would be admitting guilt. Still it is okay because the facts remain the same. Come resurrection day those graves will burst open like all the others will that are in regularly maintained cemeteries throughout the land. The dead actually need no markers to mark where they lay. The Master knows where each one is located.
Everything is okay. The relatives of the deceased who are buried in this now "non-existing" cemetery can live with the fact that the stones have been take up. We still know and recognize that we have relatives buried high upon that ridge. No one can keep us from claiming that and passing it on to our future generations. If the property owner can live with himself, having destroyed such a sacred place then let it be so.
Come that great, final Day of Judgment, the dead will speak for themselves. And that is all I have to say about it.
I am personally thankful to Tom and Christine Cormier for their understanding of the significance of this cemetery to the little mountain community known as Turkey Creek. Without their generosity, the cemetery would have been lost forever.
What you have just read is not the complete story of the Disappearing Cemetery. It would take several more pages to tell the entire story. If you are interested, I would be happy to tell you my version in person. You may want to get a copy of the book Tom Cordle wrote about the cemetery. I will share a little about this book with you. The book tells the story more dramatically than I ever could, so I recommend it to anyone interested in Self Family history. I can tell you the facts surrounding the cemetery. Tom shares the story with a little more flair.
“ Human history becomes more and more a race between education and catastrophe.” -H.G. Wells
The following is taken from the inside cover and back cover of the book.
“ The Disappearing Cemetery is a journey from the Highlands of Scotland to the Smoky Mountains of America…from the Garden of Eden to the Hell of Afghanistan. It examines two-thousand years of history from the perspective of a mountaintop in Tennessee. It is a reflection on war and the never-ending struggle for the high ground.
Sometimes it gives voice to witnesses long since gone, who speak again in their own words. Calgacus of the Picts, Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest, President Harry Truman-even the ghost of King Macbeth rises from an unquiet grave to dispute the terrible tale told about him by Shakespeare.
And from other unquiet graves in a tiny old forgotten mountain cemetery comes an answer to the seemingly endless confrontation that is the past and present of mankind… an answer revealed in The Disappearing Cemetery.”
“ Hidden high on a windy ridge somewhere in the mountains of East Tennessee is a tiny, old woe-begotten family cemetery. Like many things that were good about America, it got lost in a mad rush to the Twenty-First Century. In fact it was so forgotten, it was known by those who remembered it at all as The Disappearing Cemetery.
Now maybe this is no big deal; maybe some things are best forgotten. But maybe, just maybe, this tiny cemetery holds an important secret…a secret that could save the world.”
The following is the Preface of the book.
“History is art painted with words rather than oils or watercolors. It is colored by perception and prejudice like any other painting, and so it is only a reflection of reality. At least reality may be observed in creating other kinds of paintings, but history can only be drawn from observing the paintings of others. In choosing these paintings, and what to include and omit from them, the painter of history judges.
Some feign objectivity, but that is only an illusion. History must judge else what is the point of history? To paraphrase Santayana, history not judged is history repeated. Well, not exactly. Mark Twain said it best. "History doesn't repeat itself; it rhymes."
So-this is a painting that rhymes sometimes. The subject is a little mountain town in East Tennessee. But to complete this painting other stories must be told as well. Background reveals much the subject cannot. The context in which a painting hangs is also important, as is its frame. This painting hangs in the mountains, and it is framed by The Disappearing Cemetery.”
The Disappearing Cemetery may be purchased from Talking Leaves, P.O. Box 598, Tellico Plains, TN 37385 or by contacting the author by email at email@example.com. One may also contact me for assistance in obtaining a copy of the book at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I publish this article and related information on the Disappearing Cemetery in memory of Mr. Easley Miller who first took me to visit the cemetery many years ago.
(All quotations and graphics from the book are reprinted with the permission of the author.)