âWhen you bring them here to rest them, you expect them to rest in peace,â said Brenda Thompson, however, this was not the case at Martha’s Chapel cemetery.
The historic cemetery was vandalized on Sunday, causing irreparable destruction at the resting site of some of Walker County’s early influential voices.
âCan you imagine how we felt when we got a call on Sunday saying the cemetery had been vandalized? Thompson asked. “To go out and see the damage that has been done to your loved ones or other family or friends, because the majority of people here are somehow related.”
This is not the first time that the cemetery has been vandalized, but it is certainly the worst, with damage estimated at $ 8,000 to $ 10,000 so far. Martha’s Chapel Cemetery and Bowden Road – commonly referred to as âDemon’s Roadâ for local folklore and ghost stories – have been the target of vandalism and disturbance for decades.
âUsually October is when it gets really bad,â Thompson said. “Everyone wants to come to the Haunted Graveyard and Demon’s Road.”
âThey want to have an experience,â added LaDeanna Hightower Holcomb, though families insist there is nothing supernatural about Bowden Road or Martha’s Chapel cemetery. The only “hauntings” in the region come from ill-intentioned people who visit the cemetery to stir up trouble.
Beer bottles and trash have always been common annoyances, however, the rural cemetery has apparently become a gathering place for unsavory types, making it a dangerous place for families visiting loved ones alone.
Raymond Smith remembers a strange encounter with a machete-wielding man as he visited his family’s grave, while Martha’s Chapel Cemetery Board member Cheryl Spencer once found the clothes of ‘a young girl thrown into the woods surrounding the area, fearing that the cemetery has become a place for rituals of hazing or violence.
âIf you really come in to have a conversation and talk or even come and see the story, then that’s another story, but when you come in to vandalize and whatever, it’s not right,â said Thompson. .
Martha’s Chapel is quietly located nine miles southwest of Huntsville in what was once known as Robinson’s Settlement, named after William Robinson and his wife, Elizabeth, who emigrated to Texas in 1830 and took root in the area soon after. By 1839 a Methodist community had formed, although the area was welcoming to all faiths. A campground, school and one of the first churches in what is now known as Walker County were established on land donated by the couple.
In 1854, the area was known as Martha’s Chapel, named after Martha Palmer, the wife of a church administrator and the first to be buried in a small cemetery behind the church. Since the congregation’s dissolution in the 1930s, only the cemetery remains next to Bowden Road to tell the story of what once was, and despite the efforts of many, a small group of individuals are fighting to preserve their ancestors .
On Tuesday morning, the Walker County Sheriff’s Department and Sam Houston Funeral Home helped clear most of the cemetery for families whose loved ones were interred there, but remains from that night still remain.
Strands of toilet paper still linger on the tallest branches of the tall pines, while broken eggshells lay on the gravestones, the dried yolks splashing across the surface. Many standing headstones contain the remains of candles left to burn and dry in a puddle of black wax, while countless other granite headstones have been knocked over in the back section, a memorial site for black families where burials still take place. In the historic connection section, more than half of the marble tombstones, many of which date back to the 1800s, have been shattered beyond repair.
“Marble is not very durable anyway and it’s a hundred years old, you know what these people must have saved and saved to get a nice gravestone, and then you have somebody who comes a hundred years later and who is rampaging it, âSpencer said.
âI really feel like we’ve let them down,â Spencer said, almost in tears at the marble tombstones of his own ancestors left in piles of broken pieces. “We try so hard and then someone comes along who doesn’t have any better sense than that.”
There has been a wave of community support since Thompson shared photos of the damage via Facebook on Sunday and many have expressed a desire to help.
âIt’s really good to see the community coming together in response and trying to do bad, good,â she added. âThe community that comes together is what we really need and not this destruction. “
“That’s the only blessing I see coming out of this horrible thing, it’s for us to have a good excuse to come together, work together and get the attention of the community, because someone knows who was at the root of this mischief, âSpencer said.
The damage is estimated to have occurred between November 2 and 7. Individuals in the area say they spotted a suspicious group of boys at the cemetery on Saturday night around 10 p.m., and board members note that fingerprints were found among the garbage left behind. Desecration of a historic grave is a Class A misdemeanor and is punishable by a fine and jail time. As the sheriff’s department continues to move forward with its investigation, families say they are ready to prosecute those involved.
As for preventing intruders from entering the property, the members of the Martha Chapel Cemetery Board of Directors are lost. In the past, the locks on the doors to the perimeter of the cemetery have been cut several times and attempts to install security cameras in the trees have been wasted since they were stolen after just two days.
âWe don’t have a lot of money to pay for the mowing and we invested several hundred dollars to mount the camera and it was just gone, someone just stole it. It’s so disheartening to try to pay attention, âSpencer said.
In the future, Martha Chapel Cemetery Board members plan to lock the entrance to Martha Chapel Cemetery Road overnight. However, families fear that the region’s tradition is so ingrained in people’s minds that they will never be able to escape it.
âMy thing that I don’t want and something that could happen is that we’re going to come back and take care of this and then they are going to come back,â said Thompson.
Those with information or leads on who may be responsible for the damage are urged to contact the Walker County Sheriff’s Department at (936) 435-2440 and ask for the Criminal Investigation Division.
âOne of the things we always like to remind people is that if they see something suspicious that seems out of place, we definitely want them to report it to us. We’d rather go out and see that this is a totally legitimate person, rather than end up being something and no one calling, âsaid Walker County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Head Tim Whitecotton .