Decades-old photographs add to Tucker’s Town graves controversy
Grave site monument planning application is withdrawn
A planning application to build a monument to those buried in graves at Tucker’s Point Golf Club has been withdrawn by the cemetery’s custodians.
Marsden First United Methodist Church applied to the Department of Planning in January 2013 for permission to build a “new cemetery monument, site walls, fencing and landscaping” at Marsden Methodist Memorial Cemetery.
But the application was withdrawn on Monday, according to a Department spokeswoman.
Ombudsman Arlene Brock, in her ‘A Grave Error’ report on the demolition of tombs at the cemetery, recommended that the Development Applications Board (DAB) delay any decision on erecting a monument, expanding the cemetery’s walls or erecting a net to “avoid the golf balls raining down from the practice tee”.
She said “robust community consultation” was needed on how best to memorialise the cemetery before any decisions could be made.
The Ombudsman said the DAB should approve a temporary net or other barrier “as quickly as humanly possible to address the immediate issue of the golf balls raining down from the practice tee above”.
She wrote that, in the long-term, a permanent solution which was less obtrusive and more attractive would be needed.
According to the Ombudsman, Marsden Church made the decision to destroy historic tombstones in the cemetery, which marked the graves of residents of a mostly black community who lived in Tucker’s Town prior to 1920.
The church got Rosewood Tucker’s Point to carry out the work, Ms Brock says, on the recommendation of archaeologist Edward Harris, who wrongly believed the tombs were false.
She writes in her January 2014 report: “The obvious question then is — what next? How does Bermuda ensure that the history that this cemetery represents continues to live, vibrate and educate?”
Ms Brock said there was “no one definitive approach” regarding cemeteries on private golf courses and damaged historical cemeteries but noted that best practice would be to replace the headstones.
She said her personal preference would be to recreate the entire site and tell the story of the cemetery in permanent bronze plaques along the outside of the perimeter wall.
Bermuda’s top archaeologist is being urged to explain why he thought historic tombstones at Tucker’s Point Golf Club were modern constructions, by the descendants of some of those buried there.
Tucker’s Town Historical Society has uncovered photographs from the late 1980s which it says disprove Edward Harris’s theory that the headstones were “false” structures, put in place in the early 1990s.
Society members, along with a historical researcher, say Dr Harris failed to give Ombudsman Arlene Brock a proper explanation as to how he reached his conclusion when she investigated the October 2012 destruction of the tombstones.
The society is calling on him to review the photos and answer questions about why he recommended to cemetery custodian Marsden First United Methodist Church and Rosewood Tucker’s Point that they raze the tombstones.
And it wants Marsden pastor Joseph Whalen, church trustees and Tucker’s Point management to publicly address the desecration of the headstones, in light of the new evidence.
Society president Keith DuBois, whose great grandfather Pilot James Samuel Harvey is buried at Tucker’s Point, told The Royal Gazette: “The photographs were taken in about 1989 by society member Eugene Stovell.
“The one of the full cemetery clearly shows that the graves were above ground. The others show the stones with grass growing out of the graves and you can see why the workmen had to repair the graves.
“They [Dr Harris and Marsden] were saying that the graves weren’t above ground at all. So they made a big mistake. This is definitive proof.”
The graves at Marsden Methodist Memorial Cemetery are the final resting place of an unknown number of mostly black residents who lived at Tucker’s Town from the early 19th century, around the time of Emancipation, onwards.
The community was forced to move to make way for a hotel in 1920, with some of those evicted resettling at Devil’s Hole and relocating Marsden Church there.
The cemetery, which sits beneath the golf course at Tucker’s Point, eventually fell into disrepair, but was rededicated in 1996 by Marsden Church and renamed the Marsden Methodist Memorial Cemetery.
It became a Historic Preservation Area in 2008 after the Department of Planning consulted with Dr Harris, the Bermuda National Trust and the Department of Conservation Services on its importance.
Marsden removed the tombstones in 2012 based mainly, according to the Ombudsman, on recommendations from overseas archaeologist John Triggs, who adopted Dr Harris’s view that the tombs were “new” and “false”.
Ms Brock released a highly critical report in January about the decision, in which she detailed how the “last relatively intact relic that evidences the communal life of a wholly unique population” was lost due to a lack of research.
Dr Harris, she wrote, developed the “mistaken” view “in casual conversations — unclear with whom” that cement tops put on the original limestone tombs in 1991 or 1992 constituted the erection of “false graves”.
The Historical Society says the stones seen above ground in their photographs had been there since at least the 1860s and were significant to many people on the Island who trace their roots to Tucker’s Town.
Vice-president Denny Richardson said the cemetery fell into an “atrocious” state of disrepair over the years, with the tops of the graves falling in and grass growing out of them. But he said the sides of the original tombstones remained above ground.
“I have always known about the graveyard because my father and cousins always talked about the graveyard,” he added. “My father was born there and left, aged nine.”
Mr Richardson said Ms Brock’s report “brought to the attention of the public how some people tried to do things and got away with them”.
He added: “Ultimately, we want the record set straight, the history properly written and recorded and we want the graves to go back the way they were.”
Historical researcher LeYoni Junos, who can trace her ancestry back to Tucker’s Town and is working with the society, said it was “unfathomable” that Dr Harris could be unaware of the historical importance of the stones.
“How this pre-eminent archaeologist living in Bermuda and the director of the National Museum [of Bermuda] could have missed the articles and the discussions on this is beyond me. The place down there was a Historic Protection Area.”
Ms Junos said it bothered her that those buried there — including at least one Queen’s pilot and two branch pilots — were not recognised or celebrated.
“These are our people, these are Bermudians,” she said. “These were civil servants. How can we forget them? We commemorate a non-Bermudian — Midshipman Dale — but not these people. It makes no sense.”
Dr Harris, a columnist for The Royal Gazette, told this newspaper he would look at the photographs but would not make any comment “at this time”.
He has previously refused to answer questions from us about Marsden Cemetery.
Pastor Whalen said in a voicemail message he was on sabbatical and questions should be put to church trustee Craig Tucker. Mr Tucker is believed to be off Island and could not be reached. Tucker’s Point general manager Paul Telford did not respond to e-mails.