Here's the story: http://www.nytimes.com/2003/05/23/national/23CEME.html
Charlotte, N.C., Considers a Plan to Move Its Dead
By NICK MADIGAN
HARLOTTE, N.C., May 21 — In the persistent drizzle, the mournful air of the old cemetery seemed more pronounced than usual. Raindrops broke the silence as they tapped against the leaves of ancient oaks and spattered the cracked, mossy tombstones.
Without bothering to protect himself from the rain, George Salem walked across the wet grass to the plot his parents bought for $144 here at the Elmwood Cemetery in July 1943 and in which they are now buried.
"The city says it's their property," Mr. Salem said, "but I've got a deed that says I own it."
The issue of who owns the plots in Elmwood and the smaller Pinewood Cemetery next to it could become central to a proposal to dig up about 950 of the 45,000 graves to make room for a commuter rail line. To relatives of the dead, the plan means nothing less than desecration.
"I'm not into politics," Mr. Salem said. "I just don't want them moving my people."
Whether Mr. Salem can prevent it is an open question, but descendants and relatives of some of Charlotte's most prominent residents have joined the battle.
"It's very disrespectful to move the dead around," said Mary-Louise Douglas, whose husband, Ben Douglas, a three-term mayor of Charlotte for whom the city's airport is named, is buried at Elmwood next to his first two wives.
Others buried at Elmwood, which until 1969 was reserved for whites, and the adjacent Pinewood cemetery, which was for blacks, include the actor Randolph Scott; the textile pioneer D. A. Tompkins; W. W. Smith, Charlotte's first important black architect; Annie Alexander, the first female doctor south of the Potomac; Uriah Crayton, a thrice-wounded Civil War veteran who served under Robert E. Lee; and Gov. Cameron Morrison of North Carolina. Also laid to rest at Elmwood was John King, whose gravestone says he was crushed by an elephant, Chief, in a circus here on Sept. 22, 1880.
"We should let them rest in peace," Mrs. Douglas said, while acknowledging that not all those mentioned would be moved under the plan. "This is an awful idea. I don't know why the city even considered something like this."
The reason, city officials say, is progress. The population of Charlotte and surrounding Mecklenburg County has grown rapidly in recent years, to more than 500,000, and is expected to increase by an additional 345,000 by 2025, when the area's $2.9 billion mass-transit system, in planning since 1995, is scheduled for completion. It is to involve a combination of light-rail trains, commuter trains, new bus routes and street cars.
This week, the Federal Transit Administration announced that plans for the first of the proposed system's five rail lines — a $371 million, 10-mile light-rail track that would run along the so-called southern corridor — had met federal environmental standards, clearing the way for approval of Washington's $185 million share of the line's cost.
The northern line, the commuter track that would affect the cemeteries, where the first grave was dug in 1853, has yet to be mapped out, but a preliminary State Department of Transportation study placed it along the eastern edge of the cemeteries, next to an existing freight track. The new line would cut a 100-foot-wide, 1,800-foot-long swath into the cemeteries. Officials are also considering laying down high-speed and Amtrak rails in the same corridor.
But City Manager Pam Syfert said in a telephone interview that officials here were a long way from digging up any part of the cemeteries, which cover about 100 acres.
"The city hasn't even begun to look at those options," Ms. Syfert said. "The option of moving grave sites would be the very last option that would be considered. The federal government requires us to make every effort not to disturb the cemetery."
City Council members plan to meet on June 16 to consider a recommendation that would designate the two cemeteries as historic landmarks, but opponents of the rail plan say that even with that designation the digging could go ahead. Asked about that, Ms. Syfert said she did not know whether the city could override its own designation and proceed with moving the graves.
"We find ourselves with the unthinkable: that the Charlotte city government would allow or sanction the exhuming and desecration of our ancestors' graves in the name of progress," Mark A. Palmer, director of a group called Historic Preservation of Elmwood/Pinewood Cemeteries, wrote to Mayor Patrick McCrory on May 12.
The mayor wrote back that it would take about two years to complete a study on where best to install the new lines.
"The initial information presented about disturbing a mass number of graves is a great concern of mine," he wrote, "but I anticipate the final recommendation will be much different from what was originally reported."
Jean Leier, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte Area Transit System, which already operates 60 routes for commuters and other travelers, said it was too early to tell how the new plan would affect the graves.
"We haven't even begun preliminary engineering," she said. "We want the public to be involved. We're going to try to avoid any kinds of impacts to that cemetery."
Such assurances were not enough for Clara Morris Hedberg, a retired teacher and school administrator whose family has owned a plot at Elmwood since 1917, when an aunt, Clara Pendleton, after whom she is named, died of influenza at 18. Six other family members — her grandparents, her parents and an uncle of her grandmother's — are interred there too.
"My husband and I plan to be buried there, waving at the conductors," Mrs. Hedberg said, referring to crews of the Norfolk and Southern Railroad, which operates the freight trains that run along the cemetery's eastern edge. "We don't want them any closer."
Nancy Pethel, also a retired teacher, has four generations of relatives in Pinewood, which used to be separated from the whites-only cemetery by a fence.
"I don't believe they want to go through with this," she said, taking shelter from the rain in the doorway of the cemetery's office, long ago closed. "I'm still in shock. It's a sad day when money takes a preference over people's feelings for their loved ones."