STATESVILLE, N.C. (WJZY) – Iredell County historians are trying to determine just how many people are buried in Statesville’s Green Street cemetery, a historically black cemetery that dates back to 1885.
Cartologist Len Strozier, who owns Omega Mapping Services, was hired to use Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to find and mark each body buried in the cemetery.
He began his work last week and already has found 1,100 buried bodies, despite only 300 visible headstones at the cemetery. By the time his work is done on Thursday, he believes he will have uncovered between 1,800 and 2,000 graves.
Each body his radar detects is marked with a small pink flag sticking out of the ground.
“Just like the holy ground where my mom and dad are buried in Macon, Georgia, those two GPS points are two of the most precious GPS points in the world to me. I know that same feeling is for every single one of those flags,” said Strozier.
Iredell County Library officials believe many of the unmarked graves belong to former slaves or their children, who did not have the money to buy headstones or pay for proper burials.
“It will help us as far as restoring the cemetery, getting a monument of some sort put up for the people that are buried here, and also having the cemetery recognized as the historical place that it is,” said Local History Librarian Joel Reese.
Reese has also been combing through county death records to try to piece together who may be buried at Green Street.
For many of the locals who live along Green Street, the project has been an eye-opening undertaking. Many have personal connections to those buried there or even remember playing on the grounds as children.
“We were aware that we had family members in this cemetery, but to find this [grave] and it’s a marked grave as well, it’s quite exciting, to be honest with you,” said Lisa Mozer, who recently discovered her uncle’s headstone tucked into overgrowth at the cemetery.
Strozier’s radar has detected unmarked caskets, bodies likely wrapped in quilts, and even grave markers that have been swallowed underground by years of overgrowth. He has also spoken with several of the locals who have stopped by to share their stories with him.
“It’s the heritage that reaches out to me and helps me understand. And then these people walk through the cemetery, they see what I’m doing, they understand what I’m doing, and they want to tell me their story. And all of a sudden, this place takes life,” said Strozier.
To find some of the death records for those who may be buried at Green Street. cemetery, click here.