USDA Scientists Probe Kent Co. Cemetery - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

USDA Scientists Probe Kent Co. Cemetery to Solve Underground Mystery


FELTON, Del. (WBOC) - An underground mystery in Kent County brought USDA scientists out to the Felton area last week.

They were taking a look at Hopkins Cemetery.

Joe Hughes is the long-time caretaker of the cemetery.

"My father was caretaker before me. I help him from the time I was a small child," he said.

Since that time he's wondered about a spot in the center of the cemetery. Hughes describes what it looks like from above ground.

"Nothing. It looks like there's nothing there."

On a map dating back to the 1700s, the spot is labeled "promiscuous."

"Which means a random burial ground or potter's ground or something like that," Hughes said. "I think that there are burials here."

The only way to know for sure is to look at the spot underground. That's where soil scientist Jim Doolittle and his ground penetrating radar come in.

"The radar is non-invasive," he said. "It doesn't require any soil disturbance, and we're able to get a picture of the sub-surface."

Determining if there are graves under there is a tough, methodical process.

"They might have been buried in woods coffins, which have weathered away. They might have been buried in sacks," said Doolittle.

"The grave fill would be the same material as what's around it," Hughes said. "So, that makes this very difficult."

But Hughes is confident there's something here.

"There's got to be. Why would they mark it "promiscuous" unless they knew something was there."

He thinks its slaves and indentured servants, who were important to the region.

"These are the people that initially cleared this land and drained it. It could not have been farmed without all that work."

Bit by bit, Doolittle starts to get a sense of what's under the 8x17 meter area.

"We have seen some weak reflections out here," HE SAID. "Those might indicate unmarked graves."

But three locations in particular had strong reflections. With a little work, the team finds definitive evidence of at least one brick vault about 20 in. below the surface. It's big news for Hughes.

"It affirmed what we thought," he said.

But the work isn't over for Doolittle. He's gathered a lot of data at the cemetery.

"I'll go back. I'll process the data. I'll make it into a 3D cube diagram," he said.

That will help determine if in addition to the vault there are more, less obvious graves under the ground.

Hughes says he plans to put a memorial to the people buried under the spot. It will be dedicated to not just the people buried at Hopkins Cemetery but in unmarked graves across that part of Kent County.

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