Editorial | Historic Myrtle Beach-area cemeteries go high tech for preservation

02/11/2014 2:18 PM

02/11/2014 2:19 PM

Susan Rogerson Perhala spends a lot of time in old graveyards and on Monday it was the Flag Patch Cemetery near Loris. She and another volunteer, Jody Mishoe of Conway, labored “four hours non-stop’’ entering data from gravestones into hand-held computers and ultimately a Global Positioning System.

“I thought my knees were going to buckle,’’ from looking at the stones, she said. Perhala is the volunteer coordinator for the Horry County Historic Cemetery Registration Project, taking over in 2013 as volunteer coordinator from Tawnya Gray. Rich Ryals of Murrells Inlet is another volunteer.

The project started in 2007 as a means to protect Horry County history. Adam Emrick, senior planner for Horry County Planning and Zoning, recalls recording on paper a couple of old cemeteries “we knew were in danger’’ from development. The point is to register old cemeteries and flag them in property records and thus protect them.

The project started with an estimate of 350 historic family cemeteries, Emrick recalls. Then The Sun News published a feature about old cemeteries and folks who knew of family plots began calling the county. The total of estimated cemeteries needing registration grew to 450 or more and Emrick hopes there are not too many more.

“We are at about 300 inventoried,’’ Emrick says, and about 175 registered or flagged in the county’s system. In 2008, the county received a Preserve America grant “which let us buy equipment to do it the right way.’’ The equipment includes ground-penetrating radar to locate unmarked graves.

In the exceptionally tidy Withers Memorial Cemetery in Myrtle Beach, at Collins and Withers Swash Drive, the radar located 27 graves, for which there were no stones. These graves were marked with concrete cylinders, Perhala says. Probably, the 27 can be added to the 356 burials listed on the “Find A Grave’’ website; however, there could be some overlap or duplication because some of the 27 graves may have been on “Find A Grave’’ from earlier records of First Baptist Church.

Withers Memorial Cemetery, surrounded by a black metal fence in a quiet neighborhood off Broadway, is special to Perhala. She was asked to inventory the cemetery because Emrick had a request. “I saw a big change happening,’’ she said. A mother and daughter, who do not wish to be recognized, had embarked on a cleanup mission, raking and clearing brush from some graves and placing flowers.

The Withers cemetery is in stark contrast to some of the old family graveyards throughout Horry County. Emrick notes that on occasions, registration project workers have had to chop their way through overgrowth to reach the burial ground.

The estimated 450 historic cemeteries adds up to one for every two and a half miles, Perhala says. Her volunteer registration work clearly is a labor of love. “Being in a cemetery is free therapy -- it puts you in a quiet place.’’

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