Before it became a city park, the plot was the city’s first cemetery. The first burial took place there in 1837. Even before that, it was part of a Native American cemetery.
But, as Kevin Collier explained in a recent “Strange Grand Haven” column (June 30, “Central Park final resting place for bodies left behind”), the cemetery fell into such disrepair that it became the shame of the city. The last burial there was in 1867.
In 1883, the city mandated the removal of all bodies from the park, Collier noted. In 1886, as an incentive for people to have their family members’ graves moved from Central Park, the city offered free gravesites at Lake Forest Cemetery to relatives who would exhume and rebury the dead themselves.
But not everyone took up the offer, for various reasons — and perhaps because there was no family member left who cared about a long-forgotten grave.
After a time as a city dump in the late part of the 19th century, the city turned the old cemetery into Central Park. Human remains were found during the park’s construction and for many years after.
Do any remains remain at Central Park? Some say yes.
Local historian Bob Beaton is one of them, and he’s offered to help.
“Our society does have some basic principles and procedures for the burial and maintenance of the dead, right?” Beaton wrote as a comment to Collier’s column online. “It would seem, at the least, we should scan the park and find out exactly what the situation is. I'd pitch in some money for that and do what I can.”
It may take some sophisticated equipment, but there are ways these days to scan the park grounds and get a picture of what lies beneath.
The city should get behind this effort. Perhaps local funeral homes could assist in some way.
It’s a way we can honor our ancestors and early Grand Havenites that may be forgotten in unmarked gravesites.
Our Views reflects the majority opinion of the members of the Grand Haven Tribune editorial board: Kevin Hook, Cheryl Welch, Matt DeYoung, Alex Doty, Fred VandenBrand and Mark Brooky. What do you think? E-mail us a letter to the editor to firstname.lastname@example.org or log-in to our website and leave a comment below.