Old Log Church Cemetery

Abandoned Nebraska cemetery to be cleaned up

2012-07-21T22:00:00Z Abandoned Nebraska cemetery to be cleaned upNICK HYTREK nhytrek@siouxcityjournal.com Sioux City Journal

WATERBURY, Neb. | The stones -- small, white obelisks -- poke up through the long grass.

If you don't watch your step, you'll trip over them. Other stones lean or lie flat on the ground, knocked from their base, mature cedar trees towering above them.

Trees, weeds and grass have overgrown the Old Log Church Cemetery for decades, concealing many of the graves located in this remote site in Dakota County near Waterbury. More than 100 people are believed to have been buried here, but only 49 grave markers have been found. It's possible more lie hidden under fallen trees or among the tangled brush.

"Look at it. How can you know you've found them all?" asks Cindy Krusemark, who lives near the cemetery.

To those unfamiliar with this rural area, it's hard to imagine that up the steep bank from the gravel road to the south lies a cemetery. From the road, it looks like a mass of trees and bushes. It is a mass of vegetation, but with gravestones scattered throughout the 4-acre site.

"Everybody that knows about it says, 'What a shame,'" Krusemark said.

She was among those who saw shame amidst the overgrowth as she passed by daily on her way to work. But something struck a chord inside her this spring, when she heard about a cemetery tour in Dixon County, and she decided it was time the Old Log Church Cemetery, also known as the Elk Creek Cemetery or the Friends Cemetery, was cleaned up.

"The whole thing is just pulling me in," she said.

A similar effort began in 2000, when two ladies approached the Dakota County Board of Commissioners seeking funding to help clean it up. The issue was tabled a couple times and forgotten. Krusemark wasn't aware of that effort, but has begun a similar crusade, one she says is not going to fail.

"I'm not going to let this slip through the cracks again," she said.

On July 9, she appeared before the commissioners, seeking the $1,000 Nebraska statutes say counties are obligated to pay annually for the upkeep of abandoned or neglected cemeteries. The board unanimously approved Krusemark's request.

"We should preserve the history of the people of Nebraska. One thousand dollars is not going to break us. I think it's well worth it," commissioner Tony Gomez said.

Gomez said he had never heard of the cemetery before Krusemark invited him to visit it earlier this summer.

"It really struck me, how can we abandon our history?" Gomez said of that visit.

With board approval secured, Krusemark wasted no time in getting to work. Terry Rothanzl and Drew Peterson of Olsson Associates, of South Sioux City, have begun to voluntarily survey the two cemetery plots, which were deeded in 1875 and 1884.

Once the survey is finished, Krusemark, with the help of trusted volunteers, plans to begin carefully clearing the cemetery of undergrowth, old branches and nuisance trees, a task she said will probably take more than a year.

"It's almost overwhelming," Krusemark said as she stood in the cemetery, looking around at all the trees and brush that will need to be chopped and carried away.

With all the excess vegetation removed, Krusemark would like to see broken gravestones repaired and find and map as many unmarked graves as possible. Using dowsing rods and looking for depressions in the ground, she and other cemetery experts have located other graves, which probably at one time had wooden markers that have long since rotted away. Others have told her that soil and decayed vegetation could have covered up flat gravestones over the years, and they could lie a few inches under the surface.

Once the cemetery has been cleared, there are plans to put up a fence and let native prairie grasses once again grow among the graves. Krusemark talks about possibly having a historical marker erected.

All this for people to whom Krusemark has no connection. She has no relatives buried in the cemetery, and doesn't know any of the families, most of whom have long since moved on.

She just knows that someone needed to step up and take care of the cemetery before it was too late.

"If I don't do anything in my lifetime and no one else does, it's not going to be around long."

Copyright 2015 Sioux City Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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