Professor Sarah Rowe
8 December 2017
Public Anthropology Project
Working in the cemetery project I eventually realized how big of a task it was going to be. The process of collecting field data from roughly a thousand graves was not as hard as it sounded, but it would prove to be a very tedious task. We were given the option of using an application on our phones to collect information such as name, birth, death date, the type of gravestone, measurements of the gravestone, and even what kind of grave offerings were given. This task would take any where from three to ten minutes. Depending if we felt there was more information about the sight to be given. At times the grave site was an elaborate headstone with an assortment of grave offerings, but in others, we found but a simple headstone with nothing engraved on it. Not a name, date, or empathy indicating who this person might have been. It was with these gravestones that the name poppers cemetery finally began to fit in with its name description.
Despite the negative views of a poppers cemetery being for the forgotten of society, I felt a little of the opposite when exploring the sight. Even with its cracked tombstones and sunken graves, there was still a strange variety of colors peppering the landscape. Old flowers that were left behind, teddy bears and cars for young children, and even a strange case of antifreeze as a grave offering. My partner and I speculated that perhaps the man that was buried there was once a mechanic of some kind. Combining all of these factors you soon realize that these are somebody’s stories to tell, both questions and answers in each grave site. This version of the cemetery while it may have been neglected for years there were still cases of people who still cared for their loved ones. We met with many people who were concerned about the possible reasons for why we were there. Two of the main concerns they seemed to ask more about was the question for if the information we were collecting was strictly for the county and were we planning on exhuming any graves. All these concerns were met with the reassurance that the information we were collecting was for everyone and that we would not be exhuming any human remains.
I felt that the fear of exhuming graves may have been driven from the local news station who had reported somewhere in 2016 that a similar group of university students were working on a cemetery project. In their case however, these students were there to help identify the remains of immigrants that died trying to cross the border. An even more extreme case of a potter’s field as their area was where unclaimed bodies were buried. In our case, however, it seemed to be more along the lines of a cheaper way to bury someone. As the valley back in the day had many people who simply could not afford a proper burial. Evident in the variety of unique tome stones that were either made from wood, metal, plaster and for some a tree marked their grave.
While I do feel that it is necessary that we continue our work with the cemetery, I hope that we can somehow find a way to sort out the misinformation that can potentially spread. It’s not uncommon for rumors to spread rapidly in the valley. Letting people know and understand that we are there to document the graves and not disturb them should be one of our main priorities. Explaining to people the process of how we collect data and what we hope for the future would be beatifical for both parties as well. However, the main concern we should have would be who our target audience will be and how we will contact them. Should we use channels such as Facebook and Twitter, or should we contact the local newspaper?
In regards to what electronics we should be using to contact people, we should also be thinking of what devices would work better in the cemetery. There were cases where our cell phones simple could not work for data collection. This was either due to lack of signal or our phones were overheating in the humidity of South Texas. I suppose this can’t be helped, but in the event that our phones don’t work another task should be assigned to keep the process of gathering information moving. Putting on our thinking caps and finding a backup for our backup would be helpful. Also, while it does not have to be necessary assigning a student a certain number of graves could make that process even faster. For example, Student A and their partner will collect grave markers 300 to 310, while Student B and their partner can take numbers 311 to 320. In this way, we can keep ourselves organized and if our data collection doesn’t go through like it normally did, then it should be easier for the students who were assigned that number to be able to backtrack and find the proper grave.
Assigning people in teams of three might work out as well. Two students armed with their cell phone and another armed with their trusty measuring stick could also help us organize a little better. Of course, assuming that we have a larger class next semester. If we do manage to have a larger class along with some new students explaining to them how to properly identify a potential grave marker (if we somehow missed any) and how to document it properly might be helpful. Using examples from previous class outings would help to potentially get a better visual of what is to be expected. Yet even after only one semester I still feel that there is still a lot more to do, but at the same time, I’m surprised at how much we were able to accomplish in the little time that we had. I hope that in the coming semester we will be able to work out the wrinkles in our project and find closure to the people who are looking for their loved ones.