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Volunteers needed for cleanup

Volunteer help is needed on Saturday, May 8, to clean up and begin restoration of one of the most historically significant cemeteries in Chilton County.

The Williams Goodgame Cemetery, located about a mile and a half down Chilton County 61 south of Alabama 145 in an area of the county known as Jumbo, is the final resting place of 16 people, including Chilton County’s first sheriff, Thomas H. Williams, a lieutenant who served in the Confederate States Army. Williams was sheriff when Chilton County was known as Baker County.

“Jumbo was once quite a happening place,” said Kat Reece, who, along with her husband, Jeff, founded the Chilton Cemetery Association. “At one time, it had its own post office and school, Mullins Academy.”

Unfortunately, the cemetery has been the victim of vandals.

At one point, Reece said, vandals dug up the graves of those interred, thinking they would find gold or jewels, “but nobody back then ever had anything.”

The families of those in the cemetery had all reburied and had concrete slabs poured on the graves and around the marble markers.

One of the most damaging acts of vandalism occurred in the late 1970s, when all but one of the marble headstones and other markers in the cemetery were destroyed.

“There isn’t a piece of marble left out there that’s much larger than my fist,” Reece said.

Part of the job on May 8 will include collecting all of the pieces of marble headstones still in the cemetery but buried under leaves, brush and vines and in jigsaw-puzzle fashion, trying to put back together the original marble monuments.

“This cemetery has suffered a lot of vandalism over the years. Even though it’s located right off the road, there is an area in the frontage that is filled with trees and low-growing shrubs. The area of the cemetery where the graves themselves are is not grown up. But the growth in the frontage area makes it difficult to see when someone is back there doing something they shouldn’t,” Reece said.

The hidden nature of the cemetery also makes it a popular place for the dumping of trash.

“We want to take out everything on the road frontage so the vandals cannot be hidden and people won’t dump garbage back there,” she said. “The last time it happened, we went through the garbage and found the cell phone bills and my husband got in touch with them and told them if it wasn’t cleaned up in a week, he was going to the Sheriff’s Department. They had it cleaned up in about two days.”

Volunteers who can bring with them chain saws, rakes, garden hoes and Weed Eaters would be especially helpful, she said.

After the clean up, a second workday will be scheduled in order to install new headstones on all of the graves in the cemetery.

She said a survey of the cemetery was conducted in 1978, before vandals destroyed the headstones. Because of that survey, along with the help of Sheriff Williams’ sole surviving granddaughter, who Reece said is in her 90s, the identity of the person buried in each of the graves is known, except for one.

“Between veterans benefits and donations, we have enough to replace all the headstones,” Reece said. Family member Fred Williams and his son have purchased the headstones for all of the Williams family buried in the cemetery, she said.

“We have an arrangement with a monument wholesale that allows us to get the headstones for $50 each,” Reece said.

The first burial in the cemetery was that of Nancy Williams, age 2, in 1865. Reece said Williams’ granddaughter told the story of that tragic death.

“Back in those days, people were buried near where they lived, and that area is where Nancy lived with her family. She had gone down to the creek that runs in the woods behind the cemetery with her grandmother to get some water, and Nancy fell in and drowned before her grandmother could get to her,” Reece said.

One of the 16 graves is that of an unidentified young girl, she said.

“In a corner of the cemetery, a little girl is buried and no one knows her name. All we know is that after the Civil War, a family was traveling from Texas back to South Carolina and their daughter got sick and passed away. The family asked Sheriff Williams if they could bury their daughter there, and he allowed them to do that. That grave never had a headstone. That grave was never counted in any of the surveys. If the sheriff’s granddaughter hadn’t told us, no one would have ever known she was there.”

She said the cemetery association plans to install a headstone on the little girl’s previously unmarked grave.

Burials ended in the cemetery with Thomas Williams Jr., son of the sheriff, who died in the 1930s.

Those willing to help with the cemetery clean up on May 8 can call Reece at 294-2197, or simply show up, she said.

“Remember, snakes are out. You need to wear appropriate clothing, which means boots and long pants. If you show up in shorts and flip flops, I’ll ask you to leave,” Reece said.

Lunch and homemade desserts will be served for all the volunteers, as well as water and soft drinks.

“If you need to sit, please bring your own chair,” she said.

The Chilton Cemetery Association is working on the project with Clint Seals, who is a member of Boy Scout Troop 259, and is raising money to have a historical marker installed at the cemetery, part of his Eagle Scout project.

“People can send donations for the historical marker to us at the cemetery association, but please make sure to mark that that’s what the check is for,” Reece said.

For more information, go online to Chiltoncemeteries.org or call Reece at 294-2197.