And there’s Louise Bolden, who died, according to Green’s family history, on the way to tell relatives about another death in the family.
“I also have two uncles buried here who we can’t find: my mother’s brothers Leon and Ernest,” Green said.
Burials at Calloway Cemetery ended in 1959, and over time, gravestones fell or slumped. People forgot who rested in unmarked plots; the lawn became bumpy and uneven. Congregants who gather on the church’s driveway after services have done their best to keep the grass cut and the weeds trimmed.
Now Arlington County is about to designate the tiny plot at 5000 Lee Hwy. as a local historic district, ensuring that it will be protected and that the county will have to review proposed changes.
County preservation planner Cynthia Liccese-Torres said members of the church approached officials two years ago about preserving and restoring the cemetery. Liccese-Torres, who has worked for the county for 11 years, began looking at census and historical data.
She unearthed a 1985 survey of cemeteries by the Arlington Genealogical Club. She circulated a questionnaire at the church to tease out oral reports of who might be buried there. She found an archaeologist who could gently probe the property and identify between 40 and 50 “lost” graves and uncover markers buried by time and soil. Her best estimate is that about 100 people are buried in the 7,100-square-foot lawn.
She found the project fascinating. One of the most eye-opening moments was when she discovered small crosses on a Virginia Department of Transportation map of Lee Highway. It turned out that when the highway was widened in 1960, 10 bodies were exhumed. The state could not identify the deceased, but there was a record of where they were taken: Coleman Cemetery, in the Alexandria section of southern Fairfax County. Last year, some church members went there to look for the graves but did not find them.
“As far as we know, the people who were removed were in unmarked graves, and it’s possible” they are buried together in an unmarked grave at Coleman, Liccese-Torres said.
The information, especially the details from old census records, was welcomed by the 156 members of the 145-year-old church.
“It gave us so much more family history,” Green said. “It’s a lot . . . that this new generation of us didn’t know. We didn’t know how to find it. For the community, it’s important to know the African American history of Arlington, because it’s very prominent and it goes back more than 140 years.”