Local News

Cemetery headstones bring history to life in Fayetteville

Posted October 30, 2020 6:09 p.m. EDT
Updated October 30, 2020 6:21 p.m. EDT

— Especially around Halloween, old cemeteries capture the imagination.

Weathered gravestones darkened by shade trees might bring a chill to your spine – but they are places of peace and beauty, and often the headstones bring centuries of history to life. 

To walk in a cemetery, as the autumn wind tells the leaves to let go, is good for the soul.

Because life can feel like a chasing after the wind, when the final destination for us all is an epitaph.

"This is the final resting place of Adam Gilchrist," said Bruce Daws, a historian for the City of Fayetteville, who likes long, reflective walks in cemeteries.

In bygone days, spending time in cemeteries was quite fashionable. Families might stroll the pathways or hold picnics in the grass. Many cemeteries served as public parks, some even offering swimming holes or fishing lakes.

Just as cemetery paths served as parks, the headstones also served as history books.

"The history of Fayetteville is written in cemeteries," he said.

Cross Creek Cemetery, where trees weep with Spanish moss and the city's long-ago luminaries still shine in the marble, is one of the most notable cemeteries in Fayetteville. It's one of the few municipally-owned cemeteries that dates all the way back to the 1700s.

Inside an iron fence lies the most prominent Revolutionary War officer in the city, Robert Rowan.

Fayetteville knows that name well.

"Rowan Street was named for him. His home place was on Rowan Street," said Daws.

Here lie mayors and merchants. Buried here is the Father of Pharmacy business in Fayetteville.

And the handiwork of North Carolina's most prominent 19th Century stonecutter, George Lauder -- recruited from Scotland to work on the state capitol building -- is all over this hallowed ground.

"This is an absolute piece of art, equal to a sculpture or a fine painting," said Daws, gesturing to a chiseled depiction of a verse in Ecclesiastes, the Old Testament book about chasing after the wind.

"For wherever the silver cord be loosened, or the golden bowl be broke, all that detail is contained in this piece of marble," said Daws.

Death doesn't discriminate, even if life does. Everyone buried here in Cross Creek Number One was a white person. People of color were buried across the road -- segregated.

People like E.E. Smith, for whom the local high school is named, are buried in the segregated portion.

"E.E. Smith was truly a renaissance man. He did so much during his lifetime, and he's most noted as an educator," said Daws.

What was once the African American cemetery is now part of Cross Creek Number Two, established after the Civil War.

Daws leads tours of Fayetteville cemeteries by appointment.

You can reach him at the Fayetteville Transportation and Local History Museum.​

"When you go through a cemetery, it's like picking up a comprehensive book of Fayetteville and reading it," said Daws.

Reading, reflecting.

Resting.

To be still as the fall wind blows.

To remember that for everything there is a season -- that is good for the soul.