Hope Sexton Beth Gindel at Morey Hill Cemetery, where she hopes Ground Penetrating Radar, or GPR, will be used to locate lost burial sites. Photo by Jack M. Foley

 

HOPE — Hope Sexton Beth Gindel may soon know just how many people are buried in Morey Hill Cemetery — and how many more can be interred.

After giving Gindel the nod in September to explore a high-tech method of finding lost grave sites, the Select Board recently approved of her getting a quote from a firm whose owner has found hundreds of them all over the county, including at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC.

Gindel says it feels like an early Christmas. “I have wanted to do this since I took over (as sexton), and to have it finally come to a point that the town will allow me to do it is just miraculous,” she said.

 

Nearly three dozen lost burial sites have been located by Hope Sexton Beth Gindel and her committee since 2019. Photo by Jack M. Foley

Whether Hope moves ahead with the project at the 200-year-old cemetery off Morey Hill Road will depend to a great extent on the cost, according to Town Administrator Samantha Mark.

“I think if this can be done it would be very good,” she said, in terms of finally locating all burial sites and knowing what land remains for future graves.

In the three years since taking over as town sexton, Gindel has uncovered evidence of many graves hidden by time, decay and a lack of regular graveyard maintenance. She and her committee, aided by volunteers, have spent hours clearing brush and, in doing so, found and marked several dozen now-known or suspected sites.

In all, Gindel located the graves of 34 of the 36 people whose names are carved into a stone at the cemetery entrance because town records show they were buried at Morey Hill. Before Gindel began her work, exact locations of their graves were lost because headstones and wooden markers were taken or rotted away and vegetation obscured the sites.

She found them by looking for telltale signs, such as sagging earth and existing lines of grave markers, then exploring beneath the surface with metal prods. In some cases where no headstones existed, she located stone bases below the surface indicating a grave site.

The issue of who is buried where and how much space remains unused arose earlier in the year when a woman who had purchased a plot visited the cemetery.  Although the town had recorded the sale, the exact location was vague in the records. When Gindel accompanied the woman to the cemetery, even the customer was unsure of where her plot was, according to Gindel.

At Gindel’s urging, Hope then put a freeze on the sale of cemetery plots because of the difficulties involved if someone bought and tried to use a plot that was already occupied.

Gindel believes there are many more lost burial sites at Morey Hill Cemetery. That is where the GPR comes in. It is a machine that is pushed like a lawnmower and sends radar pulses into the ground. The pulses bounce off anomalies such as air pockets, sunken headstones and what is left of coffins and wooden crosses. It does not locate bodies because those have long since deteriorated, Gindel said. The patterns of the pulses are recorded and can be read and interpreted by experts such as Bob Perry.

Perry owns Topographix in Hudson, N.H. His GPR and cemetery mapping skills have been applied nationwide and abroad. He spent two years identifying grave sites at the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, he said. The firm has worked with 300 customers in the U.S., including law enforcement cold cases, news media and entertainment firms, such as the Disney Channel, Perry said.

Importantly, Perry’s firm is the closest one to Maine that does what Hope needs, Gindel said. Her idea is to have Perry search for hidden burial sites and create a digital map of the entire facility, not only to locate precisely all grave sites, but also to inform town officials about how many plots are unused and can be sold.

“We would like to have the whole cemetery done with the GPR,” she said. “And then have mapping done of the current grass areas and any graves found using GPR.”

Perry said he hopes to have a quote for the town soon.