A Campbell County resident is concerned about the alleged business practices at Baker’s Forge Memorial Cemetery. Agents of the cemetery sold plots that belonged to Terry Sweat’s cousins, he said last week.
The belief that the BFMC sells lots is false, said local attorney Kathy Parrott, who represents the BFMC board of trustees.
“Baker’s Forge Cemetery sells burial rights,” Parrott said. “They don’t sell lots.”
The reason burial rights to these lots were sold was a lack of access to TVA records, Parrott said. The board of trustees intends to work with families who feel they have the right to be buried in TVA plots that might have been sold, Parrott said.
“The board wants to do what’s right,” Parrott said. “We’re just trying to figure out what’s happened and do the right thing. It’s a family cemetery. You want family to be buried there.”
Sweat’s family received burial rights because Baker’s Forge is a reinterment cemetery. When bodies were reinterred, they were grouped in 10-grave sections, so the families of those reinterred could later be buried with them, Parrott said last week. Unless the families deeded plots back to the cemetery, the board of trustees can’t sell them, Parrott said. Sweat disagrees.
“That is absolutely false,” Sweat said last week.
S. S. Sweat had 22 TVA plots, Sweat said. Sweat’s cousins, Bill and Deloris Marcum, inherited the plots.
“My papaw had 22 lots,” Deloris Marcum said. “It was left to us grandkids by S. S. Sweat.”
TVA records confirmed there were 22 plots designated to S. S. Sweat, Parrott said.
The 22 plots were divided into two rows of 11.
Four of Marcum’s relatives, Homer Sweat, Doris Watson, Silas Ballard and Mary Ballard, were reinterred at the cemetery. Over the years, 11 of the remaining plots were sold, Sweat said.
“Somehow, all the lots got gone,” Sweat said. “My family never did deed any back to the cemetery.”
Sweat wasn’t able to find out why the plots were sold, he said.
“They done something with them,” Marcum said. “I think they sold them.”
“Some of those lots have been sold by the trustees,” Parrott said Tuesday.
In 2008, Marcum discovered two of the remaining seven plots had been sold.
When Marcum went to decorate the graves in May 2008, there was a tombstone for two people next to Doris Watson’s grave. Watson, Marcum’s twin brother, had died as an infant.
“I was told it was sold,” Marcum said.
K. Dan Tiller had died in March 2008, and was buried in one of the plots next to Watson in March 2008. Sandra Tiller is still alive, but has the plot next to K. Dan Tiller.
After discovering two of her plots had been sold, Marcum contacted Sweat.
“That’s when she called me and wanted to know if I could help her with it,” Sweat said.
“They done us dirty,” Marcum said. “They just took them away from us. They stole them.”
However, the plots were sold from this section of the cemetery because the board of trustees didn’t have access to TVA records and because nobody from the family had been buried in those graves since the 1930s, Parrott said. There also hasn’t been activity at S. S. Sweat’s section of BFMC since the 1930s, Parrott said.
Until the formation of the Perpetual Care Fund in 1976, it was the responsibility of family members to take care of the TVA gravesites, Parrott said. Some families maintained the areas where their relatives were buried, Parrott said.
“But some of them (plots) had not been maintained,” Parrott said. “It was the responsibility of the families because there were no funds. Some of the TVA graves were covered with briars and undergrowth.”
In 1979, the board of trustees began selling some of the graves designated as S. S. Sweat’s.
“In ’79, they didn’t have a TVA map,” Parrott said.
It wasn’t until 1999 that then State Rep. William Baird helped BFMC get a copy of TVA maps from the federal archives. TVA records specify where the original reinterments were, and which sections families were given.
“Nobody has said anything until January 2012,” Parrott said.
In January 2012, Sweat brought an affidavit to the cemetery, and showed it to former caretaker Eddie Taylor.
“Right now, I’ve got five lots out there and I brought an affidavit out there and I told Eddie Taylor the board better not sell any lots,” Sweat said.
Deloris and Bill Marcum aren’t the only people affected by this practice, Sweat said.
“There’s more people than just us,” Sweat said.
BFMC isn’t required, legally, to recognize such claims, unless there are deeds going back to 1934.
“I haven’t seen any document where TVA gave any individual anything related to Baker’s Forge Cemetery,” Parrott said. “I don’t know what they used to represent they had any rights to where the bodies were buried.”
However, the trustees will acknowledge the TVA plot books as a valid record in regards to the families it indicates having burial rights at certain sections, Parrott said. Many of the original people given burial rights in the TVA section of BFMC, such as S. S. Sweat, are dead. However, if people present written proof they have the right to be buried in TVA plots, the board of trustees will honor their wishes, Parrott said.
“The cemetery truly tries to honor that,” Parrott said. “We’ll look at every situation.”
If other situations arise where people present proof of burial rights in TVA plots that are occupied, the board of trustees will granting them burial rights elsewhere in the cemetery, Parrott said.
“Show what you have to support it, and we’ll look at it,” Parrott said.
The board of trustees also encourages people to get cornerstones to mark plots, Parrott said.
If Lois Marcum wanted to be buried at BFMC, she would want to be buried next to her brother, Marcum said. She gave her remaining five plots to Sweat.
“I give five of them to Terry,” Marcum said. “I give what’s left to Terry out there.”