By Michelle Cassell
UPDATE ON CEMETERY VANDALISM: It’s been a bit more than a week since Carole Labrum was walking her dog and discovered the small, historic Purefoy Family Cemetery in ruins – along with a make-shift cross holding a noose.
Southern Village residents were abuzz with anger and sadness on their list-serv.
“We have seen minor vandalism at the cemetery over the years, but this latest destruction seems especially egregious,” wrote Rebecca Dyck.
“The cemetery is a disaster. It is terrible to see,” wrote Paul Clark.
“I walk with my granddaughters there very often. It was a special place. This is very sad,” wrote Pat Turlington.
At a homeowner’s association meeting the next day, many residents wanted to discuss how to preserve and maintain the Purefoy Family Cemetery in the future.
“The Southern Village Board has discussed the recent vandalism,” said Susana Dancy, president of the Southern Village Homeowner’s Association, “and our Mill House Properties management company is going to meet with a specialist to come up with a plan for assessing the damage done to the cemetery and making a decision about how to address it, both short- and long-term.”
Once the assessment has been completed, a committee will be appointed by the board to help recommend a solution. “Anyone interested in being on the cemetery committee can send me their contact information, at email@example.com.”
Melissa Timo, a staff archaeologist and historic-cemetery specialist with North Carolina Office of State Archaeology (OSA), is familiar with how to deal with vandalism in historic cemeteries.
“The site is recorded with the OSA as the Purefoy Family Cemetery,” Timo said. “If we get involved we can help the community. We can do an assessment and work with a map that shows where the actual graves are located for restoration purposes. I can meet with community leaders and suggest a positive approach about what could be done to restore and protect the cemetery.”
Timo said that her records show that when Southern Village was built in the early 1990s, the Purefoy Family Cemetery was listed as “abandoned.”
“This meant that the developers could not destroy the cemetery, but they were under no obligation to maintain it,” she said. Consequently, there are no historic funds available for restoration.
Records show that in the spring of 1865, Chapel Hill was occupied by a 4,000-man Union cavalry troop under the command of General Smith B. Atkins.
Chapel Hill was not plundered, but the surrounding countryside, including the Rev. George W. Purefoy’s farm, located just south of the village, suffered. His grave was one of the ones recently vandalized at the Purefoy Family Cemetery .
Southern Village is a 312-acre neighborhood located in Chapel Hill. It includes 550 single-family homes, 375 townhomes and condominiums, 250 apartments and 35,000 square feet of retail, office and civic space.
Southern Village is a walkable community with a small-town feel, boasting a village green, walking trails, cozy places to eat, a movie theater and many businesses.
Ben Williams is the pastor of the Christ United Methodist Church in Southern Village.
“The recent vandalism and desecration of Purefoy Family Cemetery in Southern Village,” Williams said, “violates not only the sanctity of the cemetery itself but the spirit of our larger shared life together. If a cemetery is no longer sacred, what is?”
Williams reflected on the meaning of memorial gardens and cemeteries as outward and visible reminders to the larger community of shared history. The cemetery includes markers that were placed for slaves who had died. The slaves probably worked on the Purefoy farm.
“Like it or not, we are inextricably bound up with one another. All of which means final-resting places are sacred places to be preserved and protected from all harm,” Williams said.
Williams hopes that his congregation and other members of the Southern Village community will come together to help restore the damage.
“However, our shared work must not stop with resetting headstones,” Williams said. “The planting of a cross with a noose hanging off it in the cemetery adds to the deplorable nature of this action.”
“I encourage all of us who live, work and enjoy living in this community to renew our efforts to model love of neighbor and commit ourselves to ensuring that the dignity of and value of all people – both the living and the dead – is protected and preserved,” he said.
List-serve postings from residents near the cemetery have offered to set up cameras and keep a watchful eye on the area. Others have offered to contribute to the repair and to help right the headstones.
Chapel Hill Police have increased patrols in the area and the investigation is ongoing. Anyone who can provide additional information should call 919-968-2760 and ask to speak with an investigator.