- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

BRECKENRIDGE, Texas (AP) - Despite its cheerful name, Babyland could make you cry.

The Abilene Reporter-News (https://bit.ly/2g9mBKB ) reports as a parent, it’s hard to imagine a sadder place than the section of a cemetery where small children are laid to rest. For reasons I couldn’t find, it’s been a common practice to name these sections “Babyland.”

Perhaps the name caught on as an attempt to comfort grieving parents, an attempt to lift those hearts. But it’s hard to imagine any joy when visiting Babyland. Maybe that is why 26 of the markers in the Breckenridge Cemetery’s Babyland were lost over time.

Certainly children are also buried all over the cemetery, usually with family. John Trigg, a caretaker at the cemetery along with Tommy “Gordy” Gordon, explained why infants have their own section.

“A lot of people want family buried with family; some want babies buried with babies. They think that’s the appropriate thing’” he said. “They don’t want them out in the cemetery, they want them buried with other babies.”

Trigg has worked at the cemetery for nearly 20 years. One of his duties has been to mow around the Babyland graves every Friday in preparation for the weekend.

He often noticed many of the graves had no marker. It wasn’t that the names were lost; anyone could look up the plots in official records and see who was buried there.

Instead, family members who had buried their young loved ones never returned to install a permanent stone marker. The temporary metal markers would remain in place, but over time they would fall into disrepair.

Gordon brought a metal detector to work one day to see what remained.

“We went out there and found markers that had been buried just all over the place,” he recalled.

“Some of them you could read, some of them you couldn’t,” Trigg added.

Of the 26 graves, how those markers got buried was anyone’s guess. The oldest ones dated from the mid-1970s; it’s likely rain, new soil, and growing grass naturally covered the metal over time.

Previous caretakers knew of these graves, but there wasn’t much they could do if the permanent stone marker never appeared. They just had to keep track of the burial sites the best they could.

“That person would move on and do something else or die, and another person would come in and start working,” Gordon said. “They wouldn’t know.”

The men acquired new temporary markers from a local funeral home, but it really wasn’t much of a fix.

“We started making them and putting them out there,” Trigg said and shook his head. “Well, to mow and weed-eat, them temporary markers are in your way.”

Gordon agreed. “Those mower blades are kind of hard on them,” he said.

Trigg began to ponder a more permanent solution. He called a monument company to get a price quote on a basic 6x8 inch stone for each grave. It was over $1,200.

“They gave me a price and I thought, ‘Oh, man. I don’t know how in the world I’m going to get that much money,’” he said.

Approaching local groups fizzled-out, too. People said they wanted to help, but no one ever came through.

It was around this time that Flint Knight, the wholesale accounts manager at Sterling Monument Company in Eastland got involved.

“(Trigg) told me he’d been quoted a price of $1,200 to $1,500,” Knight said. “And he was telling me it had been a big dream of his to get stones out there for those babies.”

Knight is a former police officer from Hobbs, New Mexico. His gut told him there was something about this that deserved an extra effort.

“Why don’t you hold onto your money and let me talk to Sam and see what I can do, because I think we can get those stones,” he told Trigg. Knight suggested to owner Sam Harris that they had enough partial pieces of granite to make 26 small but suitable markers that would only feature the names and the death dates.

“When Mr. Knight here came on the scene, we got to talking about it, he went back and talked to his boss,” Trigg said, loudly punctuating his next remark by snapping his fingers. “Miracle happened.”

The men working in the Sterling Monument shop made short work of the job and got it done quickly.

“I mean to tell you, those guys out in the shop got after it,” Knight said. In less than a month’s time the granite was stenciled, carved and finished. They were installed in Babyland on Nov. 12.

Mission accomplished, Trigg explained why he did it.

“We didn’t do this for the publicity, we did it for the babies,” he said.

“That’s why I did it, because I think what you guys did was really noble,” agreed Knight.

Trigg and Gordon smiled, one shrugged his shoulders and the other tugged on the worn cap snug on his head. This isn’t the only Babyland in the cemetery, merely the most recent.

There are two more on the grounds, but that’s not surprising considering the age of the cemetery. The oldest grave here dates from 1872, soldiers who fought for Texas Independence are buried at Breckenridge.

But if missing markers in the latest Babyland is sad, the loss of records from the older sections qualifies as tragic.

“Our records got destroyed, some time or another,” Gordon said. Trigg thought it was a past flood in the courthouse basement.

Both men have tried searching for records in the county museum, funeral homes, and elsewhere. It’s been a tough search, but Trigg is hopeful; it’s no reason to give up.

“There’s a lot over here in these other Babylands; we know somebody is buried there but we don’t have any idea who,” he said, then paused as he weighed this thoughts.

“I don’t know, babies are just in my heart,” he confessed.

___

Information from: Abilene Reporter-News, https://www.reporternews.com

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