‘You’d be surprised at how many people never ever go visit the graves of their family members’
LONDONDERRY - Sure is quiet up here on ol’ Sore Finger Hill.
Real peaceful like, the stillness broken only by the cheerful twitter of summer birds and the slight rustle of a soft wind through the trees.
And only fitting, one might think, given that the site – known today as
Hillcrest Cemetery – is the final resting place for hundreds of souls, the oldest of which dates to 1880.
Fifty-eight are also Canadian veterans including two who were decorated recipients of Distinguished Conduct medals.
“I just think for someone who served that way, they deserve to have a nice, well-kept resting place,” says nearby resident Mona Scott, who believes the site may be a bit too protected from view.
“Nobody sees this one. It’s out of site, out of mind unless you are specifically coming in to see it,” she says, of what for the most part has become a forgotten burial place. “And that’s one of the things that we don’t have going for us.”
Hillcrest Cemetery is located at the lower end of Londonderry on a winding, gravel road that serves to completely isolate the site from the view of passing motorists on the nearby highway.
Over the decades, since the settlers of yesteryear bloodied many a finger picking and tearing away the rocks to clear it as a burial site – leading to the original name of Sore Finger Hill – the forest has grown up around the cemetery while the once-booming mining and iron-works industry upon which Londonderry was built, fell to the wayside, taking the majority of the community’s population with it.
For some, such as Scot, who have family buried here, the cemetery continues to be a top-of-mind concern. But in too many cases the descendants of these eternal residents have long moved on.
Although efforts were made during the 1980s to create a perpetual fund for Hillcrest, there simply is not enough money in the bank account to create the revenue required for annual caretaking services, let along maintenance for the many leaning, toppled or vandalized headstones within.
“I know that the lawn needs to be mowed 10 times a year instead of five times a year but there is no money to do it,” Scott says. “You can come in here in the middle of summer and find the grass eight inches high.”
Scott does not point fingers of blame for that. But the simple fact remains that more money is required to give the cemetery the care that she and overseer Kelly Eagles believe it deserves.
“It’s an old cemetery,” says Eagles, who has been volunteering his time since 1995. “The headstones, some of them need to be leveled, other sections of it need to be repaired and it’s very, very costly.”
The pair are issuing a plea to the community at large, people for instance who may have family members buried here before the perpetual fund was initiated who might wish to contribute to that effort, to those who may want to purchase a burial plot or to anyone else who simply may wish to help.
That could even come in the form of manual labour, given that a work party is scheduled for Saturday morning to help spruce things up a bit.
Earlier this summer, Scott arranged to have a couple truckloads of gravel donated to fix up the road leading into the site. That has been a great help, she says, though a few more loads would make it that much better.
The bottom line from Scott’ s perspective, however, is that the eternal resting spot of former loved ones is not a place that should be forgotten to neither time, decay nor the constant onslaught of weeds and overgrowth.
“You’d be surprised at how many people never ever go visit the graves of their family members, don’t even know the state they are in,” Scott says.
“For me, my grandfather’s 99 years old and his wife has been in here for seven years. He wasn’t able to drive his car in here to see her this summer and that’s what triggered me to say we have to get the road fixed. And I think there’s a lot of elderly people that aren’t able to come visit the people that they have. It’s sad that so many people are forgotten. But for the one’s that do want to visit, when they do come here I’d like them to be able to see a respectful place.”
Hillcrest Cemetery in Londonderry:
- Volunteers requested for Saturday work party, set to begin at 8 a.m.;
- Originally known as Sore Finger Hill because of the effort involved, primarily by children, to clear rocks from the site. Name changed in 1948 to Hillcrest Cemetery;
- Graves date to at least 1880;
- Hundreds of burial sites including 58 that are occupied by Canadian veterans;
- Current cost for new plots, including mandatory perpetual care fees, are $350 for a single, $550 for a double (9’X10’) and $850 for a four-person family plot.
A one-time discount in place until Dec. 1 of $50 for a double lot and $100 for a family site.