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Hailey Cemetery scans ground for unmarked graves

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Hailey Cemetery scans ground for unmarked graves
Hailey Cemetery Clerk Steve Tompkins points out the shallow depressions and bumps in the grass in the southwest corner of the Hailey Cemetery thought to be the final resting place of Chinese immigrants who worked in area mines during the late 1800s. Fires that swept through this part of the cemetery in 1938 and the early 1940s erased the wood and paper markers that are said to have marked the graves.

HAILEY - Hailey Cemetery officials don't know the identity of everyone interred on their grounds. But they do have a better idea of where their residents rest.

They got their first look Wednesday at maps of wavy lines that indicate possible burial sites

Anomalies represented by Matterhorn-type peaks amidst zigzagging lines indicate the probable presence of gravesites in the Chinese area where the cemetery board wants to build a cremation wall, a decorative pond and, possibly, a memorial. The area is thought to be the final resting place of Chinese immigrants who worked in the area mines in the late 1800s. Wooden markers for their graves were destroyed by fires that swept through part of the cemetery in the 1930s and '40s.

There were also 2,000 anomalies just southeast of the cemetery shed in the middle of the cemetery, even though there's just one marker there. And the ground in the northeast section of the cemetery contained some "definite buried objects," according to John Bradford, who heads up the Center for Geophysical Investigation of the Shallow Subsurface at Boise State University.

"I can say there's a variety of locations throughout the cemetery where we recorded anomalies that don't have markers," Bradford said.

Grosvenor also noted that in the early days Hailey residents simply picked a "pretty place" under the cottonwood trees that used to grow on the site to bury their loved ones. Those graves were not organized in orderly lines but were placed "helter-skelter," he said.

The data cemetery staff and board members looked at Wednesday was the result of a ground-penetrating radiation (GPR) study that Bradford did over several days in August. Bradford and geophysics students dragged a GPR unit, which resembles a scooter pulled like a wagon, across the ground.

The GPR penetrated the ground with a signal to detect objects and subterranean holes. It recorded reflected signals in wavy variations.

Bradford said he found more than 1,000 anomalies in the southwest corner of the cemetery, which is believed to be the Chinese section. Two or three anomalies may represent the same burial site, he said, since he made several passes in close proximity.

The cemetery board commissioned the study prior to doing work in the area because board members didn't want to risk disturbing gravesites in the area.

There is some speculation, however, that the Chinese bodies might have been dug up and returned to their homeland, as was customary among the Chinese immigrants who ventured to America in search of fortune.

Hailey Cemetery Clerk Steve Tompkins said the results generally confirmed what cemetery staff thought, although it turned up possible burial sites in areas they hadn't considered.

"I wonder, too if there are gravesites outside of the fence between the cemetery and the bike path," he added.

Bradford proposed that he identify the spots with the highest likelihood of graves. It's possible Boise State's Civil Engineering class might take it on as a project at a lower cost, he added. The cemetery has already committed $12,000 for the project.

Karen Bossick may be reached at


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