Tom Ross: Cemetery calls on NecroSearch
Steamboat’s forgotten souls soon could be relocated
August 3, 2010
The best real estate value in Steamboat Springs just might be an undeveloped parcel with an asking price of $400. And the plots come with landscaping — for eternity.
"For the foreseeable future, land is not a problem," Cindy Maddox said Monday.
She's not a developer but one of three people serving on the board of the Steamboat Springs Cemetery District. The others are Jo Semotan and Jim Stanko.
"You're not really a local until you buy your cemetery plot," Maddox said with a wry smile.
The cemetery staff has been busy this summer building a new walking path and a steel bridge over a seasonal stream that leads to one of the most mysterious areas of the cemetery. It's so mysterious that a not-for-profit business called NecroSearch is tentatively scheduled to arrive in Steamboat later this month. Their team will put high-tech forensic devices to work on locating unmarked graves in one of the oldest portions of the cemetery.
The volunteers at NecroSearch typically aid law enforcement agencies in the location of clandestine human burials, Maddox said. They use a variety of techniques including ground-penetrating radar. When they come to Steamboat, Maddox said, it will be to carry out a training exercise that also will serve the purpose (at no charge) of locating the unmarked graves of victims of the 1918 flu epidemic, among others.
Today, the graves are indiscernible in a portion of the cemetery overgrown with field grass.
As visitors make the winding climb in their autos to the bench where the cemetery overlooks west Steamboat, it's on their left.
There is a down sloping hill to the west where it takes a keen eye to spy a couple of lonely headstones and a sprinkling of white wooden crosses where Stanko guesses there are other graves.
"That's where the county buried flu victims and indigent people," Maddox said. "Unfortunately, it's also where people of color were buried. We'd like to think things have changed, but that's history."
Some people may bring a sense of dread to the cemetery, but Maddox is an enthusiastic visitor.
"To me, it's like walking through a giant history book of Steamboat," she said. "You walk along and turn the pages."
If you haven't been to the cemetery lately, you might be surprised at how easily you will rediscover the stories of some familiar and some not-so-familiar personalities who are at rest there.
Ivan and Lillie Shupp's headstone is etched with their cattle brand.
You don't have to guess at Si Lockhart's passions in life. His headstone bears a beautiful depiction of him holding the reins of a team of horses pulling a freight wagon.
There is an auctioneer's gavel in the upper right hand corner along with some wisdom I'll let you discover for yourself.
The friends of one Vietnam vet buried in the cemetery make certain he never gets thirsty. There are four Coors Light tallboys grouped around the headstone with a bottle of Crown Royal in its velvet bag as the centerpiece.
Nearby, Michael "Mike" Lawrence Purcell's headstone shows him running in the other direction after a successful bull ride in the rodeo arena.
A two-tone cowboy boot, its leather uppers split by exposure to the elements, hangs from an iron hook guarding the grave.
The walking path through the indigents' section of the cemetery isn't all that's new at the cemetery. At the far east end, a timber frame kiosk and a sturdy roof shelter a binder in a closed wooden case. It lists all of the interred in alphabetical order with their block and lot numbers.
Several etched metal maps showing every grave in the cemetery make it easy to locate friends and relatives.
With the help of NecroSearch, we'll soon know a bit more about some of the personalities buried in the cemetery.
We might never know their names, let alone their full stories. But at least we can mark their resting places and pause to reflect by their graves.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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