May 25, 2013
PDT Staff Writer
Greenlawn Cemetery is arguably the biggest focal point of Memorial Day events in the city of Portsmouth. It is the job of John Blevins, crew leader, and Sandy Rawlins, utility, to make it pristine, clean, and ready to welcome the people who attend the Memorial Day event at Soldiers Circle, as well as folks visiting the graves of loved ones.
“It takes two weeks to cut the grass here,” Rawlins said, striding with her mower. We start mowing the first of April, and we just stay busy through October. Since it takes two weeks to mow the whole cemetery, there’s no way we’re going to get the whole thing mowed again. Today (Wednesday) is the last day he’s (Blevins) wanting to mow. So we’re going to go as far as we can go today, and then there are other things we have to get done for Monday.”
Monday, the Memorial Day Committee begins with a POW-MIA Memorial service in Tracy Park at 9 a.m., followed by a parade at 10 a.m. that travels to Greenlawn Cemetery where Memorial Day services will be held at 11:15 a.m.
What amazes people who walk through the cemetery is that only two people are employed to handle the job of take care of the massive space. Over the years, the crew caring for the cemetery has been reduced. At one point there were three employees, and some extra help when needed. Now there’s only two people working to make the facility as immaculate as it appeared on Wednesday.
“It’s a lot of work,” Rawlins said. “We stay busy, we have to figure out a scenario as to exactly what we have to do.”
Greenlawn Cemetery opened in 1829 after being purchased by the city for $250. The chapel was built in 1884 and held many funerals for Civil War veterans, World War I veterans and civilians as well. In October, 1918, caskets were stacked from the floor to the chapel ceiling, with 11 funerals in one day — 36 in one week — and 105 that month, a record that has not been broken. The chapel is believed to have been designed by Captain A.B. Alger with local Ashlar Indented stone.
The Grand Army Circle land was purchased on Sept. 22, 1883 for $1 from the city by Baily Post 164 of the GAR, for the burial of Civil War soldiers. It was laid out by Captain W.W. Reilly, donated to the Ladies Aid Society for upkeep. The brick road was designed for the horseshoes of the horse-drawn hearse led by the family doctor. That circle was dedicated May 30, 1884. The cannon placed in the circle had been donated by Colonel Peter Kinney.
Military personnel buried throughout Greenlawn represent the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish-American, World War’s I & II, Korean War, Vietnam, with women in most wars and peace time.”
In addition to the events that climax at Greenlawn, the Lost at Sea Memorial Services will be held at the Court Street Landing on the Ohio Riverfront at 1 p.m., and at 2 p.m. the Firefighter’s Memorial Services at the Central Fire Station, Co. No. 2 on Gallia Street.
“It seems to be going down over the last several years,” Rawlins said. “I’m hoping they’ve got a big turn-out Monday.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.