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Historic township cemetery waits to be claimed

By: Angela Fichera | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published March 8, 2011

 MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Some of the headstones at the Macomb Whitney Cemetery have toppled over and need to be repaired. Many of the headstones at the Macomb Whitney Cemetery are so old and worn by the elements that they are hard to read.

MACOMB TOWNSHIP — Some of the headstones at the Macomb Whitney Cemetery have toppled over and need to be repaired. Many of the headstones at the Macomb Whitney Cemetery are so old and worn by the elements that they are hard to read.

Photo by Edward Osinski

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — She has always been fascinated with them, even as a small child.

Today, Francine Alband’s interest in cemeteries has spurred quite the investigation into the history of Macomb Township.

The Macomb Whitney Cemetery, or the Macomb Centre Cemetery, which it is sometimes referred to as, is located on 24 Mile Road, between Card and Foss roads, and hasn’t been fully cared for in years. Alband, a Macomb Township resident and professional tattoo artist, first learned about the cemetery from one of her clients, and she and a friend visited the site this past October.

“I went in there one day because I’ve always liked looking at headstones,” said Alband. “I couldn’t believe how bad it was in there. It literally brought tears to my eyes.”

That’s when Alband decided that she was going to research who owned the cemetery to see what could be done to help preserve it.

“The iron gates were falling apart and rusting; monuments were broken, tipped over and scattered; and grapevines were covering everything,” said Alband.

She decided she wanted to do what she could to clean up the old graveyard and got in touch with Mark Grabow, Macomb Township’s supervisor, to see if there was any information on the forgotten cemetery.

“The township has been cutting the grass at the cemetery twice a year under the state’s requirements, but we don’t have ownership of the property and therefore don’t have the ability to do anything with it,” said Grabow. “ We’d like to find a distant descendent of the Whitney family so that maybe they would turn it over to a historical commission of some kind. It’s a huge piece of history that desperately needs to be preserved.”

Because the township doesn’t own the land, Grabow said, it can’t stop someone from going into the cemetery and cleaning it up or beautifying it, but it is their legal right to stop someone if they are desecrating it.

“There is a real fine line there. We don’t own it, but we have a moral right to protect it if it is being harmed,” said Grabow.

Information from an 1875 Macomb County atlas Grabow has shows that the cemetery originally resided on the property of John Whitney. The first person was buried there in 1835. Records show that the last person was buried there was 1968. Since then, no one has claimed the property.

“I have spent countless hours on my own trying to get information on the cemetery,” said Grabow. “There is so much history in there. The founding fathers of Macomb Township are buried there, and there is rumored to be Underground Railroad people buried there, as well.”

Just a few weeks ago, Alband made a discovery. She had taken photos of some of the headstones at the cemetery and posted them on a www.findagrave.com, a genealogy website, asking anyone who may recognize the names to contact her.

“One of the headstones was for a Sarah Whitney, and a man by the name of Keith Whitney, the great-grandson of John Whitney, commented on the photo,” said Alband.

Since then, both Alband and Grabow have spoken with 67-year-old Whitney, who resides in Tacoma, Wash., to find out what he needs to get his hands on to prove he is a descendent and has rights to the property.

“We’re waiting to see what happens with Keith,” said Alband. “There are rumors of the cemetery being haunted or spooky, but more than anything there is some real history in there, and it needs to be taken care of and properly preserved.”

Anyone who may have any information on the cemetery or who would like to help with cleaning it up is encouraged to contact Alband at ta2z@sbcglobal.net.
 

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