At the end of a quiet road on the outskirts of Maryville, there’s a cemetery with a secret.
Fairland Cemetery is at least a century old, as far as anyone knows. It sits well away from what was the center of Maryville when its earliest known burials took place at the beginning of the last century. There’s no fence to separate it from the vineyards next door and walking through it takes only a minute.
But as long as anyone can remember, older folks have said that there was another burial site near the rear of the cemetery, behind the rows of well-tended graves.
“Our relatives always spoke of the unmarked graves, for paupers or for new miners that nobody knew yet,” said historian Sharon Petty, who works with the Maryville Heritage Museum. “We’d like to know who’s buried where. … Our job is documentation, making sure things are preserved for people down the line.”
The cemetery is owned by the village, and recently village officials authorized a ground-penetrating radar scan of a portion of the cemetery.
“A lot of our history is buried there,” said Maryville Mayor Larry Gulledge. “It’s significant to us, and we want to make sure it’s maintained. We want to find out as much as we can about who may or may not be buried there.”
What the radar found confirmed the tales: At least two actual graves, with three more sites that may have been graves. Some of them appeared to be quite small, so they may have been children, according to village officials.
“If it’s a wooden coffin, it may have deteriorated,” said Village Clerk Jolene Henry. “Also, back then if you lost an arm, they may have buried the arm — they used to do that.”
And that’s only one corner of the presumed-empty portion of the cemetery, far back from the road.
Mike Picchioldi, a retired fire chief who now runs the Memories from Maryville website, said the cemetery was the first village burial ground and is the final resting place of many of the original families from the village’s first days. Maryville was originally a mining town, he said, and the cemetery may have been the resting place for some of those early miners.
Picchioldi said they are hoping residents may have more information in scrapbooks and attics; they are especially hunting for a picture of the cemetery back when it had a large iron archway over the road.
“We all know it was there, but we don’t have a picture of it,” Picchioldi said.
If they can find a picture of it, he said, they may be able to raise funds to construct a replica.
Meanwhile, village officials are hoping that people might tell them who is buried in Fairland Cemetery, if they have receipts or records from family purchases.
The village’s own records are incomplete: back in the early 1980s, officials said, the village hired a caretaker who was caught double-selling plots. When he fled town, he took the records with him. While they eventually located him in Hawaii, village officials said, they never got the records back.
“It’s a neat cemetery since it’s so old, but it’s also sad, because we’re in this situation with it,” Henry said.
Primarily for that reason, the village no longer sells plots in Fairland Cemetery. However, burials still take place for families that purchased plots years ago.
“We tried to piecemeal the records from local funeral homes (and) an ancient receipt book,” Henry said. “But if someone calls and says this parent or grandparent has a plot out there, we try to find out.”
Village comptroller Marvin Brussatti said some people have receipts on lots that were illegally resold, which complicates management of the cemetery to this day. That’s another reason to scan the ground, to make sure who is buried where, he said.
“It’s actually the only cemetery in the corporate limits of Maryville, which is very important to all the residents, especially the ones who have been here for a long time and have parents and grandparents there,” Brussatti said. “That’s (one reason) why it’s very important to get everything straightened out.”
Village officials also hope to scan more ground; the first scan only dealt with a small portion of the cemetery. There are other areas closer to the vineyard that have not been scanned and may also have unmarked graves.
Mayor Gulledge said the village is now considering a marker of some kind over the graves if they cannot be identified, commemorating the lives of those whose names are unknown.
“(It’s) so this area will never be disturbed,” he said.
Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2507.