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Gravestone leads me to Hall County line

POSTED: February 20, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Boggs cemetery was cleaned up by the time I arrived.

A nearby resident called me at the newspaper where I worked to report neglect at the graveyard, which was next to an old chapel turned Methodist mission. As it happened, a warning issued by Athens-Clarke County led to a quick maintenance effort by denominational leaders in charge of the property. So I wrote the story.

My personal interest there was unresolved, though. It related to a specific marker.

To recap, my column last week focused on a misplaced headstone I connected to the cemetery. The memorial somehow landed in fill dirt sent to a retired University of Georgia veterinary professor. He kept the marker in his garden for years, because trashing it felt wrong.

The stone named infant Delma Lyman Hagood Jr. He died and was buried somewhere at Boggs cemetery the day he was born — July 31, 1934.

Now, Southerners take graves seriously. But sometimes cemeteries, smaller ones attached to old churches in particular, are lost when congregations dwindle, or progress. That's what happened at Boggs.

Then-head of the Methodist district entrusted with the property told me as much. What's more, he knew of no paperwork stating who was buried there and where.

So finding where the Hagood stone belonged would be near impossible, it seemed. Until, that is, my story on the cemetery cleanup was published.

A reader called. She belonged to Boggs church before the congregation changed names and moved to a bigger place. An elderly friend of hers, and lifelong member, knew a great deal about Boggs' history.

When we met, Joe Sanders showed me an old black-and-white photo of the entire congregation. This couple served around 1934 and 1935, he said, and pointed to the preacher and his wife. Their names: the Rev. D.L. and Edna Hagood.

"Yes, they did bury a baby there," Sanders said. "But they moved him years ago."

I was stunned. Later, Sanders walked me right to baby Hagood's former grave site, pointing to the grassy patch with his cane. He then moved his pointer slightly left. The stone referenced twins.

Their father was a preacher, too, and friends with the late Rev. Hagood, Sanders said, before adding, "He's still around."

I reached the Rev. William H. Ruff by telephone.

He described how he'd acted quickly when his twins were stillborn Feb. 1, 1964. Ruff called Hagood, a Methodist associate and friend, and asked permission to bury his son and daughter next to Delma Hagood Jr.

"It saddened me when they moved their boy," Ruff said. But he understood why. "We talked about moving our (children), but we decided not to. It had been a long time."

My next call: Westview Cemetery in Atlanta.

We have two Delma Hagoods, the administrator said. "Dr. (Rev.) Hagood, buried in 2000 ... and a junior, buried Aug. 14, 1979."

"Is that the date on his stone?" I asked her.

"Uh ... no," she said, sounding like an airline staffer checking flight information. "Looks like the grave was moved that year ... (he) died and was buried in 1934."

What's more, all the markers in that part of the cemetery are flat and made with bronze materials. The Hagoods had no reason to move their baby's original stone.

Answers, finally. I had to tell somebody.

I picked up the phone. Derrell Clark answered.

"You probably don't remember me," I told him, "but I have information related to the tombstone in your garden."

There was silence.

"Come on over," he said.

We didn't know it at the time, but our journey soon would take us to the edge of Hall County.

Erin Rossiter is a reporter for The Times whose columns appear on Sunday's Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com.

 



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