The Cedar Grove "Weeping Arch"
New Bern, NC – On Saturdays until November you can visit the Cedar Grove Cemetery and hear of its beginnings, and about the people that are buried there, from one of the twenty questors that work to preserve the site's structural integrity, their most current project being renovation of the famous Weeping Arch. "you know you think of the second world war cemeteries and Arlington cemetery, those are well maintained, but for cemeteries like this, and this is the oldest section of New Bern, for most there are no family members that are still here, so these people do not have a voice, unless we become their voice, and there is so much work to be done." Questor, and former President of the Craven Earl of Questers, Alice Ruckgart says the questors are constantly searching for the means to fix gravestones, the wall, and the arch. But most important is sharing the history with the people who visit. Today Cedar Grove Cemetery is a place to admire, and learn, but in 1798 and 99 the burial grounds at Christ Church in New Bern were filling up faster than they could handle. The Yellow Fever came through the town in one of the diseases worst years. The vestry, a council of twelve who decide on financial and property matters, decided to make way for a new mass burial site. They chose a community outside New Bern, called Dryborough for the site, and it would later become the home not just to the Christ Church Episcopalians, but people from many religions, and many men of war. You'll walk through the arch, and be greeted by your questor. On the right you'll see a colored plaque detailing the parks history. "This will give you a little background, these are points of interest, here are some images of some of the people that buried here." Straight ahead is a statue of a confederate soldier marking the spot where about seventy Confederate soldiers were buried, some of who fought in the Battle of New Bern, New Bern's premier battle, in which the Union soldiers took it from Confederate soldiers. According to Ruckgart the most influential person to be buried in the cemetery is William Gaston. "His monument is the low white marble sarcophagus just to the left of the pathway, he was originally buried in Raleigh, he died in Raleigh, and then moved here, his sarcophagus was designed by a new york architect." Gaston, born in 1778 is known by some as the father of religious freedom, because of his Roman Catholic background, in a state that traditionally only granted political office to men of Protestant tradition. It was ignored, and he served on the state house, senate, and U.S. congress. Eventually, he was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court, and in two important cases helped slaves in gaining the benefits of being citizens of the state. Caleb Bradham, The man who invented Pepsi is buried here. At the Bradham Drug Company, located on the corner of Middle Street and Pollock Street in downtown New Bern, Pepsi was created, originally as a remedy for an upset stomach. Bayard Wooten was a noted photographer, buried at Cedar Grove in 1959, and worked all around the state. During her career, she took photographs for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, designed Bradham's first trademarked Pepsi logo, and took the first aerial photographs of New Bern, in an airplane designed by the Wright Brothers. And if you've noticed the red spider lilies, also known as Hurricane lilies, around town, thank a man buried at Cedar Grove, named Willis Robert, who found the flower in Japan while serving in the U.S. Navy. These people are the cemeteries spirit, but what you'll find is that the stones that mark a person's identity are the more historically significant. The oldest grave material is brown stone, originally imported from New England. "you can date the material, if you encounter brown stone or slate you know that it represents the 18th century, marble represents the 19th, and granite the 20th, so that's a general rule of thumb on how you can date monuments." Ruckgart says the stones are clues to the part of society that the individuals existed in. "And of course the type of stone or monument you selected said a lot about you." The price of the stone even caused some families to go bankrupt. From 1798 to 1853 the cemetery was considered an Episcopalian site but in that final year the Christ Church gave the deed of the land over to the city of New Bern. A year later the wall and arch were constructed, initially, to keep roaming livestock out. "This is basically limestone and when you look at it closely you see seashells, embedded in it, and this is not a composition material where you throw seashells into concrete. Its quarried like you would quarry other types of stone, still being quarried today up in aurora at PCS phosphate this is what they're mining, and early settlers would broadcast it over the fields using it as fertilizer, it's used for many types of construction, even road bed construction, and if you are on a sailboat or yacht in the Neuse or Trent, you see it in large clumps along the river bank its used as riff raff to prevent soil or erosion." This same material has been in place since 1854. Current President of the New Bern Historical Society, Lynda Howell, says the material takes in water very easily, and causes break down, which contributes to the legend of the Weeping Arch "the legend is that if you come in and the arch drips on you, that you'll be the next one to come in a hearse." The restoration of the Arch is the Earl of Quester's current project. In 1972 Cedar Grove Cemetery made it on the National Register of Historical Monuments, which legally names the graveyard as a monument to history that is worth preserving. The Questors are bringing in a specialist in historic masonry to repoint the mortar, meaning they fix the material that holds together the limestone and seashells, also known as Marl. They will also put a cap on top of the arch to stop the rainwater from breaking it down. The cap will blend seamlessly with the existing structure. The Questers are also working on a Memorial tree program, part of the reason being Hurricane Irene, which did a lot of damage to both the landscape, and the graves. The Earl of Craven Questors is an international non- profit organization that's mission it is to preserve and learn about historic resources and antiques. The chapter in New Bern involves twenty women who raise money for historic preservation by putting on lunches in historic homes, sponsoring the tree memorial program, and the cemetery tours, which take place every Saturday at 4 p.m. through November
On Monday, May 14, a lecture will be held at the Cedar Grove in New Bern, one of the lecturers will be the aunt of Bayard Wooten, the photographer, and will raise money for the arch restoration.