By Steve Paul Johnson, October 6, 2000
Bill Spurlock has been caring for cemeteries since he was a child.
His regard for them has led to the creation of "SavingGraves.com"
a website focusing on protection and restoration of cemeteries.
Since its inception, SavingGraves has become like a worldwide "clearing
house" of endangered cemetery reports. Month-after-month, people
submit reports of endangered cemeteries to the site, and Bill posts
them online and coordinates them with people and organizations best
suited to take action.
I hooked up with Bill and asked him some questions:
Steve: What is "Saving Graves"?
Bill: Saving Graves is the leading Internet presence in
the battle for the protection, restoration and preservation of endangered
Steve: How did you get into this?
Bill: This is an issue that I've been exposed to all my
life. As a boy, my family would makes several long weekend trips
a year from our home in Michigan down to Allen County, Kentucky
where my Dad was born. My dad always made it a point to spend what
little time we could at the small family cemetery located in the
middle of a farm, where his mother's relatives were buried. We always
took the time to do what cleaning and upkeep on the cemetery that
we could and this made a huge impression on me. One that has stuck
with me all my life. Saving graves itself was started when in searching
for some information, I discovered much to my amazement that there
was no single resource on the internet that was providing comprehensive
information in this area. There were a number of sites that might
focus on specific areas or issues, but there was not a single source
for someone to turn to as a good starting point for an overall search.
I was inspired by a number of these websites, to start the original
concept behind Saving Graves. Some sites that comes to mind that
was a great inspiration was the wonderful work that Lois Mauk has
done with the Indiana Pioneer Cemetery Restoration Project and the
Save Our Old Cemeteries website that was run out of Oklahoma.
Steve: How do people benefit from Saving Graves?
Bill: Well, It's fast become somewhat of a portal website
for cemetery preservation issues and it's interesting that the main
pages traffic is not a good indication of the traffic that the site
is taking. I'd say that for every 1 visit that the main page gets,
there another 10 to 15 that come into the site from a different
page. We've made a real difference so far with the Endangered Cemetery
Reports. As a result of people submitting information on a specific
cemetery, we have played a part in saving at least three cemeteries,
and brought attention to problems that others have been able to
step in and assist. One of the biggest things that people benefit
from is the fact that we offer a "one stop" website for finding
information on just about any location and as more people are learning
about the existence of the website more and more are turning to
it as a first stop in their search for information.
Steve: How long has Saving Graves been running?
Bill: Saving Graves first started back in Feb of this year
on one of the free web space accounts at RootsWeb under the name
of Save Our Old Cemeteries, and in March the name was changed to
Saving Graves, the domain "savinggraves.com" was registered
and the site moved to a larger server.
Steve: Are you the only person running it, or do you have
Bill: At the moment it's only me running the website. However,
it's fast reaching the point where I cannot do everything that needs
to be done on a daily basis and keep the site up to date. For example,
I was just recently forced to make a change to the News Center area
where rather than attempt to keep up with the daily updated needed
I replaced that with links to several news sources. This freed up
a little time for me, but as a result the site lost the ability
to have an "archive" of past stories. Visitors are still getting
the same news from the same sources, but I'm no longer updating
that area by hand.
Steve: Do you have some means of learning about endangered
cemeteries, or do you rely solely on your visitors?
Bill: For the most part, I've been relying on the sites
visitors to inform me of the endangered cemeteries. The primary
source for this is, of course, the Endangered Cemetery Reports,
but at the same time many people will email me to let me know about
a specific situation. However, over the last month as the site has
been becoming more known I find that I'm getting numerous contacts
from reporters working on stories involving cemetery issues. For
example, I did a series of interviews on a situation currently taking
place in Michigan involving the clean up of a neglected cemetery
that had I not been contacted by a reporter from The Detroit News
I would never have known about.
Steve: If I learn that a cemetery is being destroyed, how
do I get that information on Saving Graves?
Bill: By far the best thing you can do is to submit an Endangered
Cemetery Report on the situation. This will get the information
to me quickly, and the report form has been designed to get all
of the needed information not only to me, but to the others that
I'll contact regarding the situation.
Steve: Does Saving Graves normally take action when it receives
news of an endangered cemetery?
Bill: Yes, what I do is upon receiving an Endangered Cemetery
Report the first thing that I want to do is to get that report online
in as quick a time as possible. I tell people that they can expect
it to take upward of 3 days under normal conditions, but in all
reality I try to make every attempt to get the report live in under
24 hours. Once the report is live, I then have a form letter that
the report is included as a part of that introduces Saving Graves
and goes into a little detail on what it's doing, and why they have
been contacted. This letter will go out by email to any number of
people or groups that are in a position either to directly assist
in the situation, or can direct the report to those that can. Where
possible, these letters will go out to various law enforcement agencies,
the state Attorney Generals office, State, County and local historical
or Genealogical societies, and the like.
Steve: How does one go about gaining protection of an endangered
Bill: Good question, and one that is nowhere near as simple
as you might think. The obvious answer is to make use of the various
laws in your given state where possible, keeping in mind that the
laws of every state are vastly different and not all states have
laws regarding the various different problems that I see come up
on a daily basis. But the real problem that stand out far and above
anything else is that fact that in many, many cases it's not the
lack of a law but getting that law enforced. There are a number
of reasons as to why the laws are not enforced, but every day I
am informed of this taking place. The best example that I can give
you is one that I use quite often involving the sheriff of Adair
County, Kentucky who when presented with a situation that was without
question in violation of Kentucky state law responded by stating
"This is MY county and I make the laws here." In order to really
get the protection of your cemetery you have to be willing to fight
for it. You have to be willing to spend a great deal of time, energy
and in some cases money. You have to be willing to go directly to
your State Attorney Generals office for help. You have to be willing
to bring the situation to the attention of the media. One of the
things that I am most proud of is in this short amount of time that
I've been doing this, Saving Graves has played a part in saving
no less than 3 endangered cemeteries around the Untied States that
I am aware of. It has also had a influence in new laws in several
states and more to come next year. It is making a difference, but
it's only one small part of the entire process. It involves a partnership
of many working together to a common goal of saving a vital and
irreplaceable part of history.
Steve: What can we expect from Saving Graves in the coming
Bill: The next year looks to be exciting for Saving Graves.
Plans currently call for not only adding more nations, but to provide
translations of the web site into several additional languages.
In the past month, the site has been visited by people from over
50 different nations worldwide. I want to bring more people into
it to assist in a number of areas. For example, I'm going to look
at getting people in different nations to take over the pages for
their countries. Roughly just under 1/3 of our traffic comes from
Canada so I'd like to see that area of the site expanded, and they
will be one of the first translations that we do.
- Steve Paul Johnson