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Plans for subdivision threaten family cemetery

Gone, but not forgotten
Posted at 4:22 PM, Nov 26, 2018

As a young boy, Michael Christopher served as a drummer in the War of 1812, and his headstone still marks his final resting place at Loudon Park Cemetery in Southwest Baltimore, but Christopher's ancestors, who are buried in a family plot just off of Harford Road on the opposite side of the city, maybe literally turning over in their graves if bulldozers clear the land containing the cemetery, which dates back to the Revolutionary War.

A single marker shared by James Christopher and his wife, Sarah, is the only headstone, which remains of the dozens believed to have once dotted this acre of land.

“The last tombstone—-that is my second great-grandparents,” said Sharon Baker, one of a handful of Christopher family descendants fighting to keep developers from erasing their last memory, “They're talking about putting sewer lines through and water lines through and the new development has basements and putting roads on top of them.  That's not right.”

The Christopher family owned the property for almost two centuries when an untimely death and a delinquent tax bill put the land in the city's hands in the 1960s.

It turned around and sold the property, cemetery and all, for $5.

Decades later, most of the headstones are gone and developers have resurrected plans to build here.

“This is the property where the new houses would be built,” said Al Barry, a land use consultant for the company behind the plans, JJ Royston LLC as he showed us the plan, “Our plan for five houses stays far away from where the cemetery remains are that we discovered through the radar.”

Ground penetrating radar turned up evidence of nearly a dozen burials in a 30-by-60 foot plot believed to be the heart of the cemetery, and the developers have agreed to set that portion aside if they're allowed to build on the rest, but many believe there are graves buried there as well.

Angela Jancius is the president of the Westfield Neighborhood Improvement Association.

“Far south of the cemetery, there is a couple that have the burial—-the grave of a young girl in their backyard,” said Jancius, “One neighbor at a recent meeting said he found a femur bone in his backyard.”

Another Christopher family descendant, Lynda Roehre Lowry, says she's convinced the construction of new houses on the untested portion of the property amounts to the desecration of graves, yet to be found.

“Why do we want to destroy this?  We do this to everything,” said Roehre Lowry, “We tear down monuments.  We tear down this, and yes, I am frustrated because of it.”

A Christopher family bible, complete with newspaper clippings of burial announcements, seems to support the idea that dozens of graves may be hidden here.

“These people, because they were here and worked the land and died early because they died from all kinds of things that are Third World country diseases now, they stuck it out and made it a place for Baltimore to be the big city that it is,” said Baker.

But if the city planning commission ultimately gives approval to the plan, progress may trump the past.

“I don't know that the city or the state has any regulatory authority over it unless a body is uncovered during development,” said Barry.

Archaeologists have pledged to monitor the developers' every move if they get the go-ahead to break ground on the subdivision.

“If there were caskets, there would be coffin hardware,” said Jason Shennhamer, “If they had personal items, which they typically would—-clothing, buttons, even shroud pins would survive.”

Not to mention teeth, other remains of hard enamel or even a more macabre specter, because of an underground spring running beneath the property.

“It could be like the bogs of Ireland, and they could still have their skin on,” said Baker.

Which leads descendants back to a very public plea to preserve their past, as a matter of principle.

“All the planning and zoning commissions—-they should have integrity and respect and honor for not only the dead but their colonial dead,” added Baker.

A snag in the plans for a road that could interfere with two known graves is holding up the project for now.

Descendants of the Christopher family have created a GoFundMe site, collecting donations to fight development and to preserve the burial site.