19th century ‘Secret Cemetery’ uncovered in Harlan County

"Secret cemetery" in Harlan County
"Secret cemetery" in Harlan County(WYMT)
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 12:39 PM EDT
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HARLAN COUNTY, Ky. (WYMT) - The Turner Cemetery, dating back to the 19th century, is one of Harlan County’s oldest cemeteries.

The gravesite is nicknamed the “Secret Cemetery” by locals because it has been hidden downtown between old structures.

“We’ve known about it for many years. I think first heard about it, probably 20 years ago,” Judge-Executive Dan Mosley said. “We’ve got several of the original pioneers that came to Harlan County, buried right here.”

County officials were donated the property, revealing the gravesite after tearing down the old Harlan Ford Motor building.

Mosley asked everyone not to worry.

He said they they plan to preserve the cemetery.

“Potentially, doing some nice fencing around this area,” Mosley said. “We want to put up some historical signage that tells who is buried here. What their impact on Harlan County was, more than a century ago.”

Local historians said that would be the best option.

Dr. James Greene said many people in the area have ancestors buried at the cemetery.

“One person, whose identity is known to us, that is still buried in this cemetery, is William Turner,” he said. “William Turner was related now, to all sorts of people in Harlan County.”

Dr. Greene said he wants to see the gravesite become a landmark for the City of Harlan.

He sad he agreed with Mosley on fencing it off for folks to see.

“Similar to what would have been in a 19th century cemetery,” he said. “It could be a picket fence or something, something that would be historically correct.”

County officials said they are taking inspirations from other cemeteries.

“In Charleston, South Carolina downtown, there are a lot of cemeteries,” Mosley said. “Some of them are much larger than this small one here. I really like how they have documented the history of the cemeteries there and how they’re preserved.”

Mosley said he wanted to reiterate that the county has no plans of tampering with or relocating the gravesite.

“We not only take care of these places and maintain them,” he said. “It’s also very important that we also educate our community on the historical significance that these cemeteries have.”

Dr. Greene said there are around 12 headstones, including Turner’s, at the gravesite.

It is unclear, though, who the other graves belong to.

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