Cemetery getting new life

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The historic Eureka Springs Cemetery on US 62 is surprisingly lively. In addition to visitors who want to pay respects to ancestors and loved ones, and people curious about the history of Eureka Springs, it’s also popular for people who appreciate for the park-like atmosphere.

Cemetery Superintendent Pat Lujan said he thinks it is one of the more interesting cemeteries in Arkansas.

“The unique thing about the cemetery is its beauty,” Lujan said. “A lot of people don’t know we have one of the oldest pine forests in Arkansas. The Mississippi Forestry Commission said some of pines are 175 to 200 years old. You just don’t find that kind of atmosphere anywhere else in Arkansas.”

Most cemeteries are flat with no trees, which makes maintenance easier, but the Eureka Springs Cemetery is in a natural forest.

“It is a wonderful place to come and take a long walk, a jog or even have a picnic,” Lujan said. “People are welcome to walk through the cemetery and enjoy it. We have families come out here and teach their kids to ride bikes because it is a safe place.”

Cemetery Sexton Gloria Stevens said the cemetery is popular in part because it is one of the flattest places in Eureka Springs with level, well-maintained roads.

“We see the same people every day,” Stevens said. “They bring their dogs. They bring their bicycles and kids. A lot of people come out just for a break to eat lunch. People use it like a park and for the most part are very respectful of what it is.”

There are 4,800 graves in the cemetery, more than double the current population of Eureka Springs. Stevens said the earliest record of a grave is from 1880, but it’s possible there were earlier graves as many are not marked.

“As people came here to be healed by the springs, some didn’t make it and they were buried,” Stevens said. “Some families evidently weren’t able to afford a gravestone. We have 165 people buried in the potter’s field for people who couldn’t afford a grave and more who were buried in pauper’s graves. The difference between a potter’s field as opposed to paupers’ graves is that they were not allowed to keep records on the paupers’ graves. That was a law.”

The cemetery was originally owned by the Independent Order of Odd Follows (IOOF). The 46-acre property was purchased from John and Rachel Lamar for $350 in 1889.

In addition to the unique scenic beauty, Stevens is drawn by the beauty and craftsmanship shown by the headstones. Those range from some handmade by the family, to a representation of seven different headstone makers.

Stevens spends a lot of time at work, always willing to meet with people looking for the graves of their ancestors or people who want to purchase a plot.

“This is my passion,” she said. “This is what I was meant to do. I go through all the records. I update everything. The history is incredible. The early movers and shakers of Eureka Springs were buried out there. I keep a lot of history of people of Eureka and can sometimes give visitors that kind of information about their ancestors. That makes them so excited. I feel like those people buried at the cemetery are my family.

“This year my mission is making maps of every block in the cemetery and filling them in with names of every person buried there. We will keep a record at city hall. I can tell where there was a burial without a marker and have been working on a map with the unmarked graves, so those will also be included.”

For a while there has been a misconception in the community that the cemetery is full, and no gravesites are available. But Stevens said there are about 140 to 150 gravesites for sale.

The cemetery had become overgrown with vegetation in recent years, but since Lujan came to work two years ago, first as a part-time groundskeeper, a lot of progress has been made in opening up the cemetery and uncovering graves.

“He is uncovering graves that haven’t been uncovered in 50 years,” Stevens said. “Every time he uncovers a headstone, it is so exciting. Pat does an amazing job. He is such a hard worker. This cemetery has never looked as good, all because of Pat.”

Lujan said the cemetery is now more visible and attractive from US 62 because volunteers worked with him to help remove honeysuckle and sapling trees from the wrought iron fence.

“Now you can see all the rockwork in front of the fence that you couldn’t see before,” Lujan said. “I think Eureka needs to be proud of the fact we have such a beautiful cemetery. We have one of the nicest cemeteries in Arkansas because of the trees. The cemetery commission has brought it a long way in the past two years. It was very neglected until the most recent cemetery commission got involved. They got the city to approve giving us some money for maintenance to keep the cemetery in good shape. We want to do some fundraisers because the cemetery does have some needs like a small tractor so we can fill some of the older graves that have sunken in.”

Stevens said in addition to requests for donations for a tractor, they are also looking for old photos of the cemetery.

An application is pending to put the cemetery on the National Register of Historic Places.

For more information, Lujan can be reached at (479) 244-5146 and Stevens can be reached at (479) 253-8206.

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