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Radar could solve Rose Cemetery's mysteries

(ran PS edition of Pasco Times)

The reality at Rose Cemetery is that a new grave could be dug on the spot where someone was buried long ago.

The old cemetery is filled with unmarked graves of African-American people who died in the past 100 years. Many were given temporary markers which eroded and were never replaced.

To avoid the possibility of digging up a grave, the city and the volunteer who oversees the cemetery last year asked the state for a $17,000 grant to hire an archaeology firm to locate graves using ground-penetrating radar. In a tight budgetary year, the request was denied.

Now Pinellas County officials are trying to arrange for the county's ground-penetrating radar to be used at Rose, which is across the street from the city-run Cycadia Cemetery.

It is important for people's final resting places to be truly restful, said Alfred Quarterman, who cares for Rose Cemetery.

"We do not know exactly how many people are buried," he said. "We're trying to at all costs avoid burying someone on top of someone else."

The county will be able to use the radar at Rose as long as Tarpon Springs labels the effort a historic preservation project or another kind of public project, said Charlie Norwood, the chief land surveyor for county. Once that happens, and the city and county governments approve the project, work could begin as soon as April at the cemetery, he said.

"We're very confident we'll be able to do the job for Alfred," said Norwood, who has met with Quarterman about the proposal.

Payment for the county workers' time and the use of the equipment would come in the form of an in-kind contribution of a service from the city, not from a monetary contribution, he said.

City Manager Ellen Posivach said Friday that she had not spoken with county staffers about the issue yet, and would not be able to comment about the use of radar at Rose until she found out more information.

The effort to use the county's ground-penetrating radar _ which looks like a lawn mower with a laptop computer attached to it _ began several weeks ago when Tarpon Springs businessman Tony Leisner attended the Pinellas Citizen's University and toured the public works department. He saw the radar equipment and remembered that Quarterman needed something like that for the cemetery.

"I thought, what the heck? This isn't going to cost anybody anything," Leisner said. "It just seemed to me that this is an opportunity for city-county cooperation."

Leisner is reluctant to take credit for his role. He said Quarterman, Norwood, County Administrator Steve Spratt and County Commissioner Ken Welch were really the people who made it happen.

"It sounds like a situation where we can undo some damage," Welch said.

The history of Rose Cemetery goes back 100 years, to a time when burials in the city were segregated. African-Americans were buried at Rose, many without a marker or with only a temporary metal marker.

Through the years, many of the markers rusted or were removed. In the largest section of the cemetery, fewer than one-fourth of the plots are marked, but many of those plots have someone buried in them.

Rose is run by a private, nonprofit group and managed by Quarterman, who volunteers his time to care for the 5-acre cemetery. Without knowing where people are buried, it is difficult for him to locate new burial places, which would be the only source of income for the cemetery.

The radar will show where people are buried so they can receive a marker. If Quarterman and others can determine who is buried there, possibly through interviews with people who have family members buried there, the graves will be marked with names etched in a stone or other material. Other graves will be marked by numbers.

"We don't want to omit anyone," Quarterman said. "It's essential that we go forth with this."

_ Katherine Gazella can be reached at (727) 445-4182 or