MEAD, Colo. (AP) - There is a mass grave of infants and children near Mead, and Historic Highlandlake Inc. plans to raise money in order to identify the buried corpses.
The mass grave is the potter’s field at the Highlandlake Pioneer Cemetery and is filled with infants and children. Most died during the Great Depression era and their families were too poor to afford the $1 for a child’s plot in the historic cemetery.
The University of Denver donated a ground-penetrating radar survey and found that there are more than 120 young children buried in Highlandlake Pioneer Cemetery, which began as a family burial ground in 1878.
In 1883, residents of the hamlet Highlandlake formed The Highlandlake Cemetery Association and purchased the land, according to a brochure.
The association disbanded in 1906 and descendants of L.C. Mead kept the records safe and performed sporadic burials. In 2001, the great-grandson of L.C. Mead donated the land to Historic Highlandlake Inc., a 501(c)(3) organization.
Historic Highlandlake Inc. will launch a brick fundraiser on June 11 to build a pathway that will serve as a memorial to the 120 children buried at Highlandlake Pioneer Cemetery.
Pauli Smith, Historic Highlandlake Inc. president and executive director, said that most of the children died and were buried between 1920 and 1940, although there are a few from the late 1800s.
Many of the death certificates say the children were stillborn or died at young ages from malnutrition or other starvation-related diseases, she said.
“They’re here and they’re just forgotten and we don’t want that to happen to them,” Smith said. “There is no testament to their lives.”
She said that the Mead-Jensen family in charge of the cemetery after 1906 charged $1 for a child’s plot and if a family couldn’t afford the cost, they waived the fee and told them to bury the child somewhere in the cemetery.
“They would go out and dig, and if you hit someone else, you would just move over and keep digging,” Smith said.
While she was looking at some of the death certificates for the children she was able to find, she pointed out that the space for “Undertaker” was often filled in with a man with the same surname as a child.
“So it was dad, or uncle, or a grandfather who would come out and dig the grave,” Smith said.
Many of the children she was able to find information on have Hispanic surnames, she said. The death certificates list illnesses such as pneumonia, gastrointestinal diseases and several instances of malnutrition.
“The mother perhaps was not able to produce enough milk because she was working out in the fields,” Smith said.
She said the fundraiser will help build a brick path through the cemetery to honor the unnamed children. Historic Highlandlake Inc. also hopes to raise $20,000 with the fundraiser to start a fund for future upkeep of the cemetery. Almost all of the upkeep is volunteer-based for now, but eventually the organization will have to hire someone to mow and keep the cemetery in order.
Smith also said they are in need of a volunteer with experience in landscape architecture or a similar field to help plan out and draw where the path will go.
The fundraiser launches on the same day that the organization hosts the 96th Annual Pioneer Day. There will be free wagon rides between the Historic Highlandlake Church and the cemetery, plus local people portraying interesting figures buried in the cemetery during the Voices from the Grave Cemetery.
Smith said there are five local children who have agreed to tell the stories of children buried in Highlandlake Pioneer Cemetery. For example, someone will portray Clara Belle Markham, who died at 17 years old in 1900 from juvenile diabetes. Her epitaph reads “So sweet a girl…”
Smith said Markham was so loved that not only did her family purchase an obituary in The Longmont Ledger, but people in the Highlandlake area wrote in tributes about her for four weeks straight after her death.
Information from: Daily Times-Call, https://timescall.com/
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