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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Debate over soldier's grave resurrected

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Grave marker located in Forest Hill Cemetery
As Greencastle officials focus their attention on the future economic growth of the city, they have been forced to look into the past -- 223 years to be exact.

Earlier this week, construction crews began building a new road on the city's East Side on land known as the Sgt. Cunningham property.

The land, situated on the west side of Fillmore Road north of Lear Corporation, received its name in recognition of late Revolutionary War soldier Sgt. N. Cunningham, of the 1st Virginia regiment.

City officials thought they had settled the mystery surrounding Cunningham's grave on the property almost two decades ago when they moved his grave marker, along with the dirt that surrounded it, to the city cemetery where it remains to this day.

But concerns about the soldier's grave resurfaced recently when the city sold the property to a Terre Haute developer seeking to construct a 30,000-60,000 square foot spec building on the property which the city, in turn, hopes to market for sale.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources Division of Historical Preservation and Archaeology recently received telephone calls and e-mails from a few individuals in town who claimed they had reason to believe Cunningham's remains were still on the property bearing his name.

Jeannie Regan, cemetery registry coordinator for the DNR, confirmed Wednesday that she received several inquires about the grave recently, obligating her to launch an investigation.

She said she spoke with Greencastle officials and was told the grave was moved to Forest Hill Cemetery about 10 years ago when the city was laying a new water line in the area.

Forest Hill Cemetery Superintendent Ernie Phillips was one of several people involved in the moving of Cunningham's grave, which occurred on May 21, 1990. Standing in front of Cunningham's grave marker on Wednesday, he told the BannerGraphic that he and other workers took great care in removing the limestone grave marker and digging out the soil underneath the stone in an attempt to preserve any remains.

The men dug a new grave in the city cemetery where they placed the dirt that they removed from the Cunningham site. They placed the limestone marker on top.

Phillips said the men did not find any bones or remains when they dug the grave, however, he believes that after more than 200 years in the ground, the body probably disintegrated.

Cunningham's marker now stands among numerous others in the soldiers' section of Forest Hill Cemetery in shadow of a large monument honoring lives lost in the Civil War. Phillips said Cunningham's marker is one of a few, if any, markers in the cemetery that date back to the Revolutionary War period which spanned from 1775-1783.

Regan agreed with Phillips that the grave had been moved, citing research that included looking in the state's cemetery registry, researching genealogical records at the state library and interviewing city officials. All indications, she said, are that Cunningham's grave was moved as the city says.

Regan said her investigation stopped short of sending out an archaeologist to the site because one cannot tell simply by looking at the ground whether or not someone's remains are actually there. She said the individuals who called her office with concerns about the grave did not present any evidence to prove the grave had not been moved.

What Regan and city officials are counting on is that if workers in fact dig up any remains on the Sgt. Cunningham property, they will immediately stop work and notify the authorities as the law requires. If remains are found, the state will send out an archaeological team to conduct an onsite investigation, Regan said.

Mayor Nancy Michael said she, too, is confident that workers will follow the proper procedures and that she does not believe there is any reason for concern. She questioned the validity of those who came forward with the concerns and urged that the project will go forward as planned.

State officials would not reveal the names of those who contacted them and city officials said they did not know. Meanwhile, work at the site is ongoing.

Last week the city closed Fillmore Road while workers construct the extension of the road to the Sgt. Cunningham property. Garmong officials hope to begin construction of the spec building there next year.

As for the history of Sgt. Cunningham himself, few clues are known other than his rank and service in the military. Seemingly no one knows when he was born, when and where he died, or what happened to his family.

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