This is the story of how I found my great-great-great grandparents graves and lived to tell the tale.
This story actually begins almost exactly a year ago.
My entire family was squeezed into our overflowing 15-passenger van, on a 30-day trip from North Pole, Alaska to Savannah, Georgia. Besides making them stop at every National Park and battlefield on the 9,000 miles of our trip, I also made quite a few detours to do research at courthouses and cemeteries.
One of the cemeteries I wanted to find was the “Agee Cemetery”, in Woolwine, Virginia. The area is just a couple of miles off the Blue Ridge Parkway and from what I had been told, there were four gravestones down a trail off the side of the highway.
The road was windy and the forest thick.
I had a very vague idea of where the cemetery was located.
I didn’t need to do a lot of prior planning though, because I had my new wonder-toy, the iPhone in hand. It had a GPS, internet access, maps, and the email with the directions to the cemetery. What more could I need??
What I didn’t take into account was the fact that my iPhone wouldn’t have any signal or internet access in the mountains of Virginia. We were driving blind. And I learned my lesson.
After going back and forth down “the Crooked Road” several times (it’s really called that – here’s the sign to prove it!),
stopping at some poor unsuspecting man’s house to ask for directions, and driving down a very narrow dirt road with signs saying “No Trespassing” “Private Property” and “Trespassers Will Be Shot”, we threw in the towel and headed down the Blue Ridge Parkway further to the Biltmore for some sightseeing.
Over this past year, the fact that I wasn’t able to find that cemetery had been nagging at me. I really wanted to find them.
After taking off from the NGS Conference in Charleston, I decided that I’d make a stop in Virginia. Because Virginia is on the way to Kansas, right?
This time around, I was armed with much more specific directions. I was also in a small SUV instead of a 15-passenger van. A little bit easier to maneuver around.
We still had a few things going against us though.
- It was Sunday morning and there weren’t very many people around (I did have the idea to stop by the local church to ask someone about the cemetery, but the parking lot was empty. Hmm)
- Even though I had more specific directions, I still didn’t know exactly where I was going.
- It was POURING down rain and the graves were 3/8 of a mile off the road. And I didn’t have an umbrella. And there wasn’t a store in town. See the rain, just waiting in those clouds??
But did I let any of this get me down? Of course not! I had gone out of my way to drive to this county and I wasn’t going to give up that easily. I’m from Washington state anyway. A little rain wasn’t going to discourage me.
My first stop (after passing the empty church parking lot) was the busiest place in town – the gas station/hang-out. There, I asked the resident old-guy-on-a-bench if he knew where I could find the cemetery. I am honestly not quite sure what he said to me. His accent was so thick and he had so many teeth missing that I couldn’t understand. I nodded a couple of times, thanked him, and tried to follow the directions I already had.
I found the small shoulder, where I was supposed to pull over on the side of the road.
I could see a bit of footbridge (which was mentioned in the directions). I knew that I was on the right track. Just at that moment, a pick-up truck pulled out of the nearby road. I flagged it down and asked the man driving if he knew if there were some graves back there and if whoever owned the land would mind if I went back to take some pictures of them. He said that I should go down the road (which he had pulled out of) and turn into the first driveway. The graves were near this man’s house. Great! (or so I thought).
As I drove down the one-lane dirt road, I realized that it looked familiar. And when I stopped at the first driveway, I found out why. This was where all of the “No Trespassing” were! I couldn’t decide what to do.
Just then, a nice older lady was passing by and I asked her if she knew who lived there. She said that she thought that he was home and I should go and ask him about the graves. I decided to gather the courage and go ring this man’s doorbell.
So, I turned the corner of the driveway (I couldn’t see the house before) and was faced with the fact that this man didn’t have a doorbell. Or even a proper door for that matter. What to do? I got about 25 feet from the shack and yelled “hello” about 6 or 7 times and then hightailed it back to my truck when no one answered. As I was pulling out of the driveway, I noticed that the outbuilding/barn that was there looked like it could have been standing when my ancestors lived in the area (over 100 years before). I was tempted to take a picture of it, but my good manners kept me from doing it.
So, back to the side of the road where I started out. The rain had stopped and I decided it was now or never. Armed with my camera and my cell phone (which of course didn’t work, but for some strange reason it still made me feel better to have it), Ellie and started walking down the pathway.
We crossed the footbridge and the path quickly turned into an ATV trail.
A very muddy ATV trail.
But we weren’t giving up, right?
Except for one very un-cool moment, where I almost slipped and covered myself in this,
we made it up the path unscathed. A little muddy, but no gunshots.
And that’s when we saw it. It definitely wasn’t what I expected to find.
But you’ll have to wait until next Tombstone Tuesday to see what was down the long muddy path.
Would you have ventured down it?