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Spooky Halloween Search Explores History of African American Cemetery

(PHOTO: Heritage Consultants uses what looks like a high tech baby stroller to map the underground at Rye's African American Cemetery.)
(PHOTO: Heritage Consultants uses what looks like a high tech baby stroller to map the underground at Rye’s African American Cemetery.)

A spooky Halloween search is helping understand the history of Rye’s African American Cemetery. On Tuesday, working on behalf of the Town of Rye, Heritage Consultants of Berlin, Connecticut launched a ground-penetrating radar, unmanned aerial vehicle (drone) and high-resolution photogrammetric gravestone survey at the African American Cemetery. The work is part of a $35,450 grant from the National Park Service (NPS), as part of the Historic Preservation Fund’s African American Civil Rights grant program.

“This work ensures that we can continue to teach our community and nation about our collective past – and ensure that future generations recognize the struggle of those interred at the site,” said Dave Thomas, president of the Friends of the African American Cemetery. “They will realize that these lives and their lives are intertwined in the history of our nation and mankind. We are all a part of history.”

Formally declared hallowed ground in 1860, the graveyard is believed to have more than 300 marked and unmarked graves, including 22 veterans of the Civil War, Spanish American War, World War I & World War II.

(PHOTO: Town of Rye Supervisor Gary Zuckerman with Brenna Pisanelli, senior project manager for Heritage Consultants at Rye's African American Cemetery.)
(PHOTO: Town of Rye Supervisor Gary Zuckerman with Brenna Pisanelli, senior project manager for Heritage Consultants at Rye’s African American Cemetery.)

“We anticipate that there will be important discoveries made in regard to the number of burials that have taken place in this historic site,” said Town of Rye Supervisor Gary Zuckerman. “We are seeking to expand our knowledge of the cemetery, update the burial roster, and work to erect markers for all those without existing tombstones.”

With technology and expertise provided by Heritage Consultants, the Town will be better equipped to preserve and uplift the site, and plans to make the results of all the data collected easily accessible to our community online access and on-site signage.

The grant funds several surveys: completion of a ground penetrating radar (GPR) survey, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) survey, and high-resolution photogrammetric gravestone survey of the cemetery. The first step is to identify the unmarked graves using information collected via GPR, a non-invasive geophysical survey method which detects soil disruptions to locate indications of a human burial. Technicians will also conduct a drone survey of Rye’s African American Cemetery to record a high-resolution three-dimensional, geo-referenced rendering of the cemetery; and create a geo-referenced documentation of the 160 gravestones that are currently known to exist within the cemetery.

Heritage Consultants estimates that the initial process will only take 4-5 days to complete; findings from the project should be available online within six months.

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