In September 1985, a man jogging along Lane Street discovered human bones lying in a ditch. What happened after is a dispiritingly familiar tale of denial and deflection.
Wilson Daily Times, 23 September 1985.
Wilson Daily Times, 24 September 1985.
In a nutshell:
- The jogger had the bones examined by a friend who worked in the Edgecombe County Coroner’s Office, who estimated they were 50 to 60 years old. (The bones themselves were from a 50 to 60 year-old person? Or had been buried 50 to 60 years prior? And why didn’t the Wilson County coroner step in immediately?)
- The jogger found the bones “on the left side of Lane Street Extension about ten feet from a grave that had been capped with concrete.” (“Left side” is relative, and maddeningly imprecise in a news story, but I interpret this as the opposite side of the road from the main cemeteries, i.e. the left side if one is facing MLK Parkway/Highway 264.)
- A Cemetery Commission spokesperson identified four cemeteries on Lane Street. (There were, in fact, six — Masonic, Hamilton, Rest Haven, Vick, Odd Fellows, and Rountree.)
- The city did not begin maintaining Lane Street until after 1972, when it annexed land east and south of Highways 301 and 264. “About five years ago [i.e. 1980], the city attempted to define the road and found, because of the numerous graves in the area, only a 40- to 45-foot right of way could be allowed, compared to the usual 60-foot right of way.”
- The city “routinely” scraped the dirt road and cleared the ditches, but “wasn’t sure” when Lane Street had last been maintained. (Yes, you read that right. Past Rest Haven and around to its intersection with Highway 264, Lane Street was unpaved until the late 1980s. Maybe the 1990s. I’ll search for a precise date.)
- Citing the unusual nature of the find, a county health department spokesperson said she would have to check to determine who was responsible for reburying the bones.
- The next day, the Public Works Department weighed in to disclaim any responsibility. “We’re not doing anything right now. We’re not aware that we have disturbed any graves.” Further, its spokesman asserted his belief that bones had been recently deposited.
- He allowed that some unusual things had taken place though. “There is a concrete slab over one grave on one side of the road that wasn’t there when we annexed the property in 1972. The marker says the person died in 1950, but the slab has been poured in the last five or six years.” (I saw that slab as a child riding my bicycle on Lane Street in the mid-1970s. It lay at the very edge of the ditch, with one long edge fully exposed, on the side of the road opposite the main cemeteries. Rountree Missionary Baptist Church owns parcels on both sides of the road, as noted here. Whenever the slab was laid — by a family attempting to ward off the encroaching roadway? — it is no longer there. See my visit to that side of the road here and here.)
- A former county sanitarian reported that he’d received a call from a woman who believed her relatives might be buried under Lane Street. (This just gets worse and worse.) Public Works: “Asa was going to look into that for me. It could be that we need to find out who that could be and see if they want to do some digging out there to remove the remains.” (“Could be”? And who is “they”? The families whose relatives’ graves the city desecrated?)
- The police removed the bones, but provided no one knowledgeable enough to make a comment.
And this is the last mention of these bones, or graves lost under Lane Street, that I have found to date. Were they ever reburied? Where? If they weren’t old, was there ever an investigation to determine to whom they belonged and how they came to rest in a Lane Street ditch?
Many thanks to Tracey Barnes for bringing the September 24th article to my attention and alerting me to this chapter of the Lane Street cemeteries’ history.