TRAVERSE CITY — Sometimes you have to unbury a cemetery to honor the dead.
Elmwood Township's John Sawyer didn't say that, but that's what happened to him.
It started in mid-July when he noticed a small American flag fluttering in an over-grown, all-but-forgotten graveyard as he drove down Fouch Road in Leelanau County.
"What the heck?" he asked himself as he pulled over along the tree-lined road and walked into small rural graveyard.
He picked his way to the flag through deadfall and the long limbs of old cedar, pine and maple trees swooping down across the ground, shrouding the eight graves and their headstones, some broken, some lying flat on the ground.
"The flag was on a Civil War veteran's grave, and that's what got me going," said Sawyer, the son of a career U.S. Marine Corps officer.
"This just can't be, I told myself. Headstones tipped over and broken, trees growing up out of graves."
Since that day, the cleanup of the 50-by-100 foot Fouch Road Cemetery has become a passion for Sawyer, who also has tracked down the history of its occupants through local records and Ancestry.com.
"I was taken aback and felt I had to do something, so I did," he added.
The Civil War veteran's name was J.B. Thacker, who died in 1883. J.B. stands for John Beattie. He served in the 169th Ohio Infantry Regiment. His wife, Emily Fouch Thacker, who died in late 1868, lies next to him. Tree roots toppled her gravestone and broke it in two. She was the sister of early Leelanau County farmer and businessman, John Fouch, also a member of the 169th Ohio.
George Fox, the second Civil War veteran and homesteader buried in the graveyard also came from Ohio and served with Thacker and Fouch. Fox lies beside his wife and son.
Sawyer's latest discovery occurred Aug. 31 when his rake hit a fallen headstone marking the small grave of 1-year-old Evangeline Cook, who died in 1932. Within a day, Sawyer had tracked down the Seattle great-great-granddaughter of one of Evangeline's younger sisters via U.S. Census records, which showed that the Cook family moved to Washington state a few years later.
Sawyer has uncovered more of his own family history, too. One Maine and three New York ancestors fought in the Civil War and yet another Maine relative battled in the American Revolutionary War. As a result, he decided to join the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and Sons of the American Revolution.
The retired Traverse City Light & Power maintenance employee didn't uncover the cemetery alone. John Deering Tree Service donated "four trucks, four men and five hours." Ron Popp, owner of Popp Excavating, loaned him a dump truck and tools. Terry Walters, owner of Ace Welding in Traverse City, also offered to fabricate some aluminum channel for the repair of Emily Thacker's headstone.
Sawyer sees the physical labor and research as a way to honor the people and restore dignity to the cemetery.
"It was something that needed to be done," he said. "It shows respect for the people who came here before us. It's hard to find direct descendants to these people, but there are still families in this area three or four generations later that can trace ancestors to these people."
TRAVERSE CITY — Sometimes you have to unbury a cemetery to honor the dead.
Leelanau Birding Festival runs May 29-June 2
Robert Parsons has traveled to Texas, Arizona, Florida and even Costa Rica to seek out unusual birds. Now Parsons is adding Michigan to that list.Continued ...
Sand in his veins: Mountz has 38 years at Sleeping Bear
Tom Mountz is the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore’s longest-serving employee. He can’t think of one other place in the world he would rather work.Continued ...
Kathy Gibbons: Time to say goodbye — once again
It’s been three years since I’ve actually lived here full-time in the summer. This year will mark the fourth.Continued ...
Terry Wooten: One poem leads to another — and friendship
I was watching my own kids ride a miniature tilt-a-whirl, when I heard this old man yell, “MIMI SIT DOWN!” I looked around to see who Mimi was, and there was this little carney girl slouched on a plastic chair on a merry-go-round.Continued ...
Travel in Brief: 05/19/2013
Agritourism listings; New exhibit; Disney at Palace. (Plus more)Continued ...
- Sunday, May 12, 2013
Keeping memories alive on Mother's Day, all year long
Some spend Mother’s Day with their mothers. Others devote the day to remembering them.Continued ...
Nothing's off-limits on mother-daughter podcast
Shelley Watkins grew up reading and discussing a wide range of topics at her family’s cottage on Lake Leelanau.Continued ...
Marta Hepler Drahos: Tiny dogs teach big lesson
Linda Gottwald was out of town when her Pine Cone Farm rescue facility got a call asking for help with several Pomeranians from a backyard breeder who had more than 40 dogs.Continued ...
Writers Series welcomes Nathaniel Philbrick
The National Writers Series welcomes author Nathaniel Philbrick to the City Opera House on May 14.Continued ...
Ed Hungness: Heinous acts tarnish American staple
Recently a friend of mine was in the national news. Sadly, the two Boston terrorists made use of two pressure cookers to construct improvised explosive devices. The result was tragic.Continued ...
Best Sellers: 05/12/2013
Hardcover fiction: 1. “Gone Girl” by Gillian Flynn, Crown, $25.Continued ...
- Sunday, May 5, 2013
Village hosts Green Elk Rapids Days
It takes a village to keep one green. That’s the message an Elk Rapids group hopes to deliver with its fifth annual Green Elk Rapids Days.Continued ...
Secret connects house's former, current occupants
A downstate family had a mystery on their hands after discovering a letter hidden in the ceiling of their Royal Oak home until clues in the letter and some online research led them to Sandra Serra Bradshaw of Suttons Bay.Continued ...
Loraine Anderson: Geneaology is just plain fun
Genealogy is a form of time travel, a scavenger hunt of sorts that turns one into the archaeologist of ancestral times.Continued ...
Mystery author delves deep in 'Dead Little Dolly'
Fans of Elizabeth Kane Buzzelli’s Emily Kincaid mysteries finally get to learn more about their favorite crusty deputy.Continued ...
On Poetry: Poetry harnesses ordinary life
I chose a poem by Billy Collins only a year ago, and there are SO many more poets I could introduce you to! The last time was in spring also. I think I start feeling a little silly and springy and he’s who I think of.Continued ...
Travel in Brief: 05/05/2013
Wildlife photos; Book signings.Continued ...
Benzie libraries launch programs
The Darcy Library of Beulah and Benzonia Public Library are launching a series of monthly programs featuring regional authors and their works.Continued ...
Best Sellers: 05/05/2013
Northwest Michigan — Hardcover fiction: 1. “Leaving Everything Most Loved” by Jacqueline Winspear, Harper, $26.99.Continued ...
10 writers win awards
Ten high school freshmen writers have received awards for participating in the Bruce Catton Essay Contest.Continued ...
- Sunday, April 28, 2013
Group gears up for cycling tour of Tuscany
Matt and Judy Vajda will tour Italy at an average speed of 20-24 miles an hour.Continued ...
Law enforcement, schools offer cybersafety tips for parents
Call it the digital dilemma. School kids today know more about the Internet, computers, social media, cellphones and chat rooms than their parents.Continued ...
Garret Leiva: Searching for signs of spring
My internal clock is either wound too tight or merely spring loaded. Every year — shortly after the vernal equinox — I come down with spring fever.Continued ...
Rotary Show lampoons hot-button issues
Audiences never quite know what to expect at Traverse City’s annual Rotary Show — and neither do its producers.Continued ...
Travel in Brief: 04/26/2013
New ‘Adventures’; Museum Mile; ‘Trail Town’.Continued ...
- Leelanau Birding Festival runs May 29-June 2