A few years ago I was asked to be the chairman of the committee to restore the original Spanish Fork Cemetery. This invitation sparked my interest because I had an ancestor who died in Spanish Fork in the early 1850’s who is not listed as being buried in the current cemetery. Each year on July 24th, I’d hike a weed covered hill to the site of the original cemetery on a bluff overlooking the Spanish Fork River. There were no headstones there and the place was overgrown with weeds. The only way to tell this site was once a pioneer cemetery was by an old rock and mortar monument that listed fifteen names. I had to wonder, “If my ancestor’s name is missing from this list on the monument, who else is missing? It didn’t seem right that the earliest settlers to this area were all but abandoned and forgotten.
When I took this assignment I was told there was no known list of the people buried there and it would impossible to compile such a list. So plans moved ahead to restore the cemetery and turn the surrounding area into a memorial garden with a life size bronze statue of a pioneer family, a walking path and story boards. Generous Spanish Fork City leaders, community members and volunteers gave of their money and time to help in the effort. Yet something inside me couldn’t let go of the idea that I had to try to compile the most complete list to date of possible burials at this abandoned cemetery.
I heard conflicting stories about the old headstones. No one knew what happened to them. One day I was looking at the monument and noticed some of the old headstones had been used like decorative bricks in the monument. Several markers were placed along the top. Two were loose and when I removed them I could see the initials of two deceased persons – (W. G. E. and H. M. G.). It was an electrifying moment that tugged at my heart. I knew I had to do everything I could to locate the names of all the burials.
So I searched old sexton’s records, Deseret News death notices, family histories, local history books, original LDS church ward records, and web sites dedicated to family research. I invited any person interested to help me in this search. Because records at that time are incomplete and spotty at best, the search was long and complicated. I found some bodies had been buried in this original cemetery but later disinterred and moved to the current cemetery. Some bodies were not moved but new headstones were later placed in the current cemetery. I also found that both the original and the current Spanish Fork cemetery were used concurrently for a period of time.
During my research I uncovered many touching stories about the earliest settlers. These courageous people lived in tents, wagon boxes or dug-outs. They dealt with hostile natives, crop failures, inadequate shelter, starvation, illness, tragic accidents, poverty and disease. I read the story of a young mother and father huddled together under a blanket on a freezing cold night trying to keep their newborn alive inside their primitive dug-out. When they woke in the morning, their tiny child had frozen to death during the night. I learned about a volunteer sexton who kept a fire burning all night so he could get a shovel into the frozen earth to bury the dead. And through it all, I learned to truly reverence and honor the people who lived and died here.
I have now uncovered 170 names. Names that have been forgotten and lost but are forgotten and lost no more.
We will be having a re-dedication ceremony on July 21 at 7:00. If you can't make it to the ceremony come by another time . . . and soak in the peace and hope that reside at this place. The panoramic view from this sacred site is perhaps the most majestic in all of Utah County. I hope you will visit some day. And may you find the courage to move forward with your life inspite of the challenges you face.