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In Maryland, a once-abandoned cemetery now blooms

April 7, 2018

In this Saturday, March 31, 2018, photo, Michelle Jones, of Elkridge, photographs a daffodil and headstone on Daffodil Day at Whipps Historic Garden Cemetery, in Ellicott City, Md. Recent cold weather has delayed the blooming of many plants in the garden. The 1833 private cemetery was transformed into a memorial garden. (Kim Hairston/The Baltimore Sun via AP)

ELLICOTT CITY, Md. (AP) — The final day of March arrived at a Howard County country graveyard with pockets of yellow daffodils overflowing between the aged headstones of mothers, blacksmiths and their children.

Visitors walked along paths and carried home spring potted plants from Whipps Garden Cemetery, a one-acre wooded resting place that was celebrating its ongoing volunteer-driven restoration. Nearly 150 people admired the setting of spring flowering bulbs along wooded trails for an annual event called Daffodil Day, which includes a plant sale that serves as a fundraiser for the cemetery.

Daniel Whipps stood by his great-grandfather’s headstone, now neatly surrounded by a wood fence. “It’s really a cloistered oasis here,” he said.

Whipps, a photographer with a studio in Arbutus, said he recalled a visit to what was then his family’s private cemetery nearly 50 years ago. “It was a mess, overgrown, but you could see a few gravestones.”

His great-grandfather, Samuel Whipps, who died in 1909, lies here. He is flanked by his two wives. The former Sarah Hooker, who bore eight children and died at 36, is to his left. To the right is her sister Jane, his second wife, who gave him six sons.

The last interment in the cemetery took place in 1915. But after the restoration got underway, families began placing memorial benches and other markers of remembrance.

“I put a bench here for my father,” said Daniel Whipps. “He grew up in what is now Columbia and lived in Ellicott City as a young man. He went on to be a truck driver and competed in national truck driving championships. He was really quite good at it.”

The transformation of the old Whipps family cemetery took more than three decades. Located on a hilly piece of ground on St. John’s Lane in Ellicott City, the cemetery was near the home of William Whipps, a blacksmith.

William Whipps paid $73.25 for the acre in 1855. The seller was Reuben Dorsey.

Not all buried here are Whipps family members.

One such grave, bordered by a tiny white fence, is that of Annie Vernay, a 1-year-old child who died in 1862.

Her tombstone reads: “We loved this tender little one and would wish’d her stay. But let Our Father’s will be done She shines in endless day.”

Daniel Whipps’ wife, Betty Walke Whipps, escorted visitors through what has evolved into a woodland garden with clusters of graves marked by weathered and worn stones.

By some miracle of preservation, an iron fence around the Gaw family plot escaped destruction.

“The fence has the medallion of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, a fraternal organization whose membership included blacksmiths,” Betty Whipps said. “As the volunteers cleaned up the cemetery, they were discovering new pieces of history here.”

Aleta Gravelle, president of the volunteer cemetery restoration organization, demonstrated how the elaborate iron fence used a series of black-painted chains and posts to mark a burial site. The chains were hung with somber-looking decorative cast-iron tassels.

“I was told that hornets made their nests in those tassels,” said Gravelle.

The decision was made to reclaim the cemetery in 1987. Then came three decades of ripping out invasive vine and junk trees. Trailer loads of trash and debris had to go, too. Scout troops, master gardeners and neighborhood volunteers were initially led by Barbara Sieg, who was then president of the St. John’s Community Association.

The cemetery is now owned by the nonprofit Friends of the Whipps Cemetery and Memorial Garden Inc.

As part of the preservation plan, sections of the cemetery are now small gardens. There’s a rose section, a butterfly garden, a children’s iris garden and an herb section.

“The place becomes part of your life,” said Gravelle. “There are times when I come here three times a day. There is always something to be done.”

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Information from: The Baltimore Sun, http://www.baltimoresun.com

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