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Veterans graveyard a victim of overgrowth, neglect

BY LAUREL BLACKlblack@paducahsun.com

METROPOLIS, Ill. - Eric Brown stops near the edge of an overgrown plot of land at the end of West Eighth Street, pulling his socks over his jeans to fend off ticks. With a bottle of Gatorade in one hand, he sets out through the underbrush.

Brown knows that no one simply strolls in to Kidd Cemetery. In the summer, you have to trek up hills, through thorn bushes and over rotted logs to find the few tombstones that still stand.

At least 260 people - including 33 veterans - are buried in the neglected graveyard on the outskirts of Metropolis. Kidd Cemetery serves as the final resting place for Civil War veterans, many of whom fought with the U.S. Colored Heavy Artillery, as well as men who served during the Spanish-American War and World War I. The cemetery is racially mixed, but the majority of those interred there are black, according to research compiled in "Massac County, Illinois Cemeteries, Book Six."

Although trees shade most of the cemetery, the air remains hot and humid, and Brown has to shoo away swarms of bugs. As he trudges up a hill, he speaks of the veterans buried there.

"They had to go through this and fight for their lives, and we're just walking through the woods and can't stand it," Brown said.

Brown comes across cans, broken glass and a tire before he reaches his destination: a grave marker belonging to Peter Miller, a U.S. Army private who fought in World War I. Miller died in 1967, making him likely the most recent addition to the cemetery, which dates back to 1865.

"The government takes care of Arlington," Brown said. "If there's one veteran buried in a cemetery anywhere in the country, the military or somebody should take care of it."

Brown, whose parents are from Metropolis, began researching his family history and came across Kidd Cemetery, where his grandmother's first husband was buried. As the son of a U.S. Army veteran, the plight of the burial ground pains him, and he wishes something could be done to clean it up.

So do the few other people familiar with the cemetery.

Keith Anderson has lived in a home adjacent to the land for 45 years. As a child, he could look out his window on Memorial Day and see flags waving in the breeze, he said. Now, only about 23 stones are still standing. Amid the grass and vines, pieces of air conditioners, milk crates and a porcelain sink stand as the cemetery's most visible landmarks.

"It's grieved me my whole life to think about that," Anderson said.

According to Pat Lockard of the Metropolis Public Library, the last known listing for someone involved in taking care of the cemetery is from 2001. It states that Lewis Dabbs, Jr., was treasurer for the cemetery fund at the time.

But Dabbs has been deceased for more than a decade, and the role of caretaker for about the past three years has fallen to Othel and Wilma George.

"It's just sitting there," Wilma George said. "We wish it was cleaned up. If we had the funds to get it cleaned up, it would be good."

Ann Laird, an avid researcher of local history, said the property used to belong to a Jacob Kidd, who came to Massac County around 1820. Once the site of a family plot, it was eventually deeded a public cemetery. Laird said the state of Illinois used to allocate money to the counties to fund cemetery care, but did away with that practice about 10 years ago.

"It's horrible," Laird said of the state of the cemetery. "I don't even remember the last time it's been cleaned."

After his trek through the cemetery, Brown drops by to visit Anderson. The two talk about cleaning up Kidd Cemetery on their own, although Brown estimates it's the size of two football fields. They say they've talked to local historical societies, but can't find anyone interested in doing what it takes to restore the graveyard.

"Everybody wants, but nobody wants to put up the effort," Brown said.

Contact Laurel Black, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8641, or follow @LaurelFBlack on Twitter.

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