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Hundreds of people, including veterans and residents of the Old Men’s Camp in Jefferson, are buried in unmarked graves in area cemeteries, according to a Gardiner researcher.
Ann Cough has conducted extensive research on cemeteries in Gardiner and Pittston and discovered that 262 people are buried in unmarked graves at Gardiner’s Plaisted Cemetery alone, including 27 from Jefferson.
Cough and friend Ed Greiner have spent countless hours combing through town records and going through documents and microfilm at the Maine State Library and Maine Law Library.
Cough has spent the past 30 years researching genealogy. She became interested in local cemeteries while placing flags and later wreaths on veterans’ graves in the Gardiner area.
An ancestor, Civil War veteran Thomas Doyle, is buried in Plaisted Cemetery. Her research on Doyle led to the discovery of the unmarked graves.
“They are buried like sardines,” Cough said of how closely the dead were packed together at Plaisted. “I consider (them) recent deaths. This was not 1842, it was 1942. Some were loggers and woodsmen with no families they could go live with.”
There are no burial markers and no signage to tell what lies below their grass-covered graves, located just beyond a row of trees on West Hill Road in Gardiner. The grassy field has not had a burial in “well over 50 years,” Cough said.
Mostly men were buried at Plaisted Cemetery, with a few women, Cough said. “They were born all over the country and the world, as far away as Russia, Germany, and Ireland,” she said. Sixty-four were born in the U.S., the rest in other countries. Many were state wards.
Two hundred were buried at Plaisted Cemetery between 1942 and 1952. Another section holds the remains of 62 others who found their final resting spot from 1952-1957. A fence separating the two plots was recently removed by the town of Gardiner, which maintains the property.
“Two men we know of were veterans,” Cough said. Their grassy burial grounds stand out in stark contrast to the memorial stones next door, which date back to the early 1800s and include monuments to many Civil War dead.
“A lot of them were considered paupers,” Cough said of the men buried in the field.
Cough said there are also unmarked graves at St. Denis Church’s Calvary Cemetery and Pittston’s Riverside Cemetery, by the Colburn House School. An unassuming wooden crucifix marks the spot at Riverside.
“Without a grave marker, who knows how many?” she said. “Who would have paid for a marker?”
She said it is “hard to figure” how many residents of the Old Men’s Camp have been buried in the unmarked graves. She found an obituary and death notice for a Peter Granatick (also spelled Granatich or just Grant), of Jefferson, one of the 262 buried at Plaisted. “His obit says he was buried in a family plot. It sounds nice, but it is not true,” she said.
The city of Gardiner has a list of the names of those buried in the unmarked graves, with their dates of birth and death, birthplace, and two initials after that.
“I figure the initials were for the funeral home,” Cough said. Many were residents of area nursing homes, including Willowcrest Nursing Home, of Pittston; and Merrill Manor and Robinson Resthome, of Gardiner.
The Old Men’s Camp in Jefferson started out as one of many Civil Conservation Corps camps across the country, part of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in 1933. The CCC was an effort to put young men to work during the Great Depression after World War I.