Volunteers start cleaning up neglected South Dallas cemetery

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by JONATHAN BETZ

WFAA

Posted on October 28, 2012 at 8:50 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 9:57 PM

Oakland Cemetery

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DALLAS — Some consider Oakland Cemetery to be a forgotten final resting place.

It had become so neglected that many passing by assumed it was an abandoned lot.

This weekend, volunteers like Brianna Dance gave the historic cemetery new life. When she began digging, she had no idea what she'd find.

"I didn't know there was concrete, even under the grass here," she said. "It had overgrown so much."

Much has already been lost at Oakland Cemetery. Brush and weeds had overwhelmed the tombstones, roads and pathways. It was hardly a fitting resting place until hundreds of volunteers arrived this weekend.

As they cleared the growth, long lost graves were revealed.

"You can actually see a lot of the graves," said volunteer Nate Oswald. "Before, you couldn't even quite tell it was a cemetery."

Opened in 1890, Oakland had fallen into disrepair in recent years. Interred here are some of Dallas' founders, with familiar names like Ervay and Exall.

But the keepers of the 60-acre South Dallas plot can no longer afford the care.

"They don't have enough money in their endowment fund to really keep the maintenance going," explained cleanup organizer Craig Sommerfeldt.

Church groups sent hundreds of people, toiling for hours on the project.

"It's a little bit of sweat, but my day job is sitting at a desk, so this is actually pretty refreshing," Dance said.

But even after Saturday's effort, the job is not yet complete. Volunteers were only able to clear about one-third of the property.

"Somebody's got to start it, and that's what we're doing," said volunteer Shalimar Raines.

There are more than 30,000 graves at Oakland Cemetery. Volunteers said they hope to return soon.

E-mail jbetz@wfaa.com

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