Digging up cemetery history


By Wendy Byerly Wood - [email protected]



Elkin resident Joe Hicks and Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talk to those gathered at Hollywood Cemetery Monday night for a tour.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks and Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talk to those gathered at Hollywood Cemetery Monday night for a tour.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks, right, shares the history of Hollywood Cemetery with those attending a tour Monday hosted by the Surry County Genealogical Association.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Esther Johnson, right, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talks about the groups work documenting cemeteries across Surry County.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Ashley Felts of Durham tries out a copper wire test, with the wires crossing as she passes over a burial site in the Hollywood Cemetery, Monday night. She is part of the Hendrix family which has some of the oldest burial spots in the town cemetery.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

The Surry County Genealogical Association hosts a cemetery tour at Hollywood Cemetery, the town’s graveyard, Monday night.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

The Surry County Genealogical Association hosts a cemetery tour at Hollywood Cemetery, the town’s graveyard, Monday night.


Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Copper wire can be used for more than just finding water pipes underground, as proven Monday night at the Hollywood Cemetery in Elkin.

The copper wire demonstration by Elkin resident Joe Hicks was part of a night of genealogy in town hosted by the Surry County Genealogical Association. A crowd of more than 20 people gathered at the oldest part of the cemetery where names like Chatham, Smith and Gwyn as well as Hendrix could be seen on the side of the tombstones dating back to the 1880s, prior to the town’s purchase of the graveyard in 1897.

Association members are unsure of the origin of the name Hollywood for the cemetery, which is part of the National Register of Historic Places. Several people from the Elkin area were in attendance at the gathering, and no one had an explanation. There is a large Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, and some wondered if the name could have derived from there.

According to the listing in the national register, “The first known mention of the name ‘Hollywood Cemetery’ came in a December 2, 1897, newspaper note announcing that a monument had been erected at the grave of Carrie Gwyn Smith, daughter of Thomas L. Gwyn and second wife of Alexander M. Smith.”

Hicks read the history of the cemetery from the listing, noting that in April 1897 Gwyn and his wife, Amelia, sold the six-and-a-half acre area to the Elkin town commissioners to be used as a town cemetery. “Hollywood Cemetery became the final resting place for most of Elkin’s leaders and their families, as well as others, throughout the twentieth century,” reads the listing.

In addition to the 1897 section of the cemetery, it now also has sections added in 1934, 1957, 1967, 1968, 1980 and 1989, but only the sections from 1897, 1934 and 1980 are included in the historic district. “The nominated portion of the cemetery includes around 1,100 graves, less than two dozen of which are in the 1980 addition,” states the register. “Grave stones consist primarily of large and small obelisks and tablet head and foot stones consistent with those typically found in cemeteries of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries.”

During the cemetery tour portion of the association’s gathering, Hicks, President Esther Johnson and Jack Luffman talked about the work the members of the group have been doing to place all cemeteries and graves in Surry County on cemeterycensus.com. If a person searches Surry County on the website, found will be 469 listed cemeteries including 50,000 burials and 20,000 photos of tombstones, as well as GPS coordinates and driving directions to them.

Luffman spent hours logging the families and buried at Crestwood Cemetery near Elkin. He took 1,600 photos while working on that part of the project.

Johnson told those gathered the information on cemeterycensus.com and findagrave.com are free.

Luffman asked for those who might know of a cemetery location which isn’t on cemeterycensus.com to call and let association members know so they can document them. Also, Johnson encouraged people to go on the website and add photos they may have of the deceased persons to the cemetery listings.

For the copper wire demonstration, Hicks explained he used the technique to locate burials in fields where tombstones may have been bulldozed to the edges of the fields so they could be used for farming prior to the government protecting burial sites.

“Burials are done mostly facing east from head to foot,” he said as he held out two pieces of copper wire, one in each hand, and began to walk across a burial plot at Hollywood Cemetery. As he passed over the spot, the wires crossed one another, just as they might if someone was locating a water pipe underground.

“I don’t know if it is a disturbance in the soil, or a lower spot that collects more moisture. This will work for other animals as well,” said Hicks.

He gave others a chance to try out the wires, which worked for several of them.

Ashley Felts of Durham, who attended the tour with her grandparents, Bill and Linda Davis of Ronda, was the first to try them out. The Davis family is family of the Hendrixes buried prior to the cemetery being owned by the town.

While Gay Prater, who lives across the street from Galloway Episcopal Church, isn’t from Elkin, she said she attended because she “was interested in the history of the people who settled the area.”

The Georgia native said, “I’m sure there are a lot of stories to be told about the people buried here.”

Her neighbor, Roy Thomasson, tried out the copper wire trick on the graves of Dr. Joseph and Mary Ring, whose house he now lives in on Terrace Avenue.

He and Prater said there are stories that slaves where buried in the backyard of the home, so Thomasson planned on trying the copper wires at home as well. His family has owned the former Ring house since 1931 when it was purchased from their heirs.

Following the cemetery tour, a parade of cars headed to the E&A Rail Trail at Elkin Municipal Park to learn of its history and some of the stories which have been uncovered by the members of the Elkin Valley Trails Association as their work has continued on completing the trail from Elkin to Stone Mountain.

Wendy Byerly Wood may be reached at 336-258-4035 or on Twitter @wendywoodeditor.

Elkin resident Joe Hicks and Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talk to those gathered at Hollywood Cemetery Monday night for a tour.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1070.jpgElkin resident Joe Hicks and Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talk to those gathered at Hollywood Cemetery Monday night for a tour. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks and Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talk to those gathered at Hollywood Cemetery Monday night for a tour.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1074.jpgElkin resident Joe Hicks and Esther Johnson, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talk to those gathered at Hollywood Cemetery Monday night for a tour. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks, right, shares the history of Hollywood Cemetery with those attending a tour Monday hosted by the Surry County Genealogical Association.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1103.jpgElkin resident Joe Hicks, right, shares the history of Hollywood Cemetery with those attending a tour Monday hosted by the Surry County Genealogical Association. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Esther Johnson, right, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talks about the groups work documenting cemeteries across Surry County.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1067.jpgEsther Johnson, right, president of the Surry County Genealogical Association, talks about the groups work documenting cemeteries across Surry County. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Ashley Felts of Durham tries out a copper wire test, with the wires crossing as she passes over a burial site in the Hollywood Cemetery, Monday night. She is part of the Hendrix family which has some of the oldest burial spots in the town cemetery.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1126.jpgAshley Felts of Durham tries out a copper wire test, with the wires crossing as she passes over a burial site in the Hollywood Cemetery, Monday night. She is part of the Hendrix family which has some of the oldest burial spots in the town cemetery. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1108.jpgElkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1117.jpgElkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

Elkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1118.jpgElkin resident Joe Hicks demonstrates the crossing of copper wires as he passes over a burial spot in Hollywood Cemetery Monday night. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

The Surry County Genealogical Association hosts a cemetery tour at Hollywood Cemetery, the town’s graveyard, Monday night.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1084.jpgThe Surry County Genealogical Association hosts a cemetery tour at Hollywood Cemetery, the town’s graveyard, Monday night. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

The Surry County Genealogical Association hosts a cemetery tour at Hollywood Cemetery, the town’s graveyard, Monday night.
http://elkintribune.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/web1_DSC_1078.jpgThe Surry County Genealogical Association hosts a cemetery tour at Hollywood Cemetery, the town’s graveyard, Monday night. Wendy Byerly Wood | Elkin Tribune

By Wendy Byerly Wood

[email protected]

Elkin Tribune
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