Perry County Commission uses radar to detect unmarked graves

Sunday, June 11, 2006

PERRYVILLE, Mo. -- The Perry County Historical Society is closer to its goal of finding the unmarked graves at the county's poor farm.

On Saturday, ground-penetrating radar was used to verify the location of graves on pasture owned by the county, at the back of the Perry County Nursing Home.

The nursing home is on what used to be the Perry County Poor Farm, which operated from 1889 to 1944.

The historical society's aim is to determine the cemetery's perimeter, permanently mark the site on land records and commemorate it with a marker.

John Kraemer, director of the center for environmental science and professor of environmental science program at Southeast Missouri State University, and his colleagues used ground-penetrating radar that sends signals down 10 feet, reads differential layers and gives a diagram saved as a computer file.

"It's like a guess-fest," Kraemer said. "Two other areas have been tested with no anomalies found." He believes there may be up to 100 people buried at the site.

The data will be analyzed and results are expected in a week. The work was contracted by the Perry County Commission.

Investigating the graves had been on hold due to spring rains, which would have made the readings inaccurate.

The poor farm's residents included the visually and hearing impaired, indigent individuals, orphans and the insane. The building was originally the home of Charles Killian, who sold it to the county.

Four to 11 residents lived on the working farm, where they were expected to raise cattle, crops and see to their own needs. Only a manager was employed.

In 1944, the idea of a poor farm was given up, and the remaining residents were sent to Pinelawn Nursing Home in Kirkwood, Mo. By 1947, Dodd's Retirement had opened on the site and changed hands several times until it was demolished in 1968.

Perryville resident Jennifer Baker, who is a Perry County Historical Society volunteer, had been researching her family tree and was drawn to the 1939 newspapers referring to the poor house. She has invested two years researching the unmarked graves.

After Baker discovered the existence of the poor house, she set out to interview neighboring property owners, former managers of the nursing home and construction workers who built the nursing home. She found nine individuals who had connections to the graves. Further research of death and birth certificates from 1901 to 1941 are the basis for the potential of at least 33 graves at this site.

Articles that appeared in the Perry County Republican Monitor prompted a local man to report his great-great uncle, Jacob Rhyne, had been buried there. Rhyne served in the Civil War as a Union soldier. His family wants to apply for a stone he is entitled to through the military.

Perry County Historical Society president Trish Erzfeld also works for the county clerk and has served as a liason between the university and county commission. She said once they get the report with perimeters documented, they'll have a survey done so that as the nursing home builds on an as-needed basis, the cemetery will be legally protected.

335-6611, extension 133

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: