Located in the Westport/Mount Winans community of Baltimore, Mount Auburn Cemetery is one of the city’s largest African American cemeteries. Founded in 1872 by Reverend James Peck, the cemetery is the final resting place for former slaves, clergymen, teachers, doctors, military veterans, and Civil Rights leaders as well as countless African-American families.
Over the years, the cemetery suffered from periods of neglect and vandalism. Articles and photographs published in the Afro-American revealed the deteriorating condition of the cemetery. Dense, overgrown briars prevented family members from locating the graves of loved ones.
In October 1944, the Afro-American reported that "The graves themselves present a contrast of raw clay mounds, sunken pits, muddy trenches and weedy plots above which the marble and granite markers made a desperate effort toward dignity."
Periodically, volunteers attempted to clear dense brush and mow the grass, but maintaining a cemetery is a year-round, expensive endeavor - reportedly costing $25,000 per year - and the cemetery lacks a perpetual care fund. Without a regular maintenance plan, the landscape quickly became overgrown and weed-choked once again.
Recently, access to the cemetery has been made possible through the efforts of the inmates participating in the state prison system's Public Safety Works program. Thanks to their hard work clearing debris, cutting down overgrown brush and mowing grass, families are now able to visit the graves of loved ones.
The worn boundary wall has been replaced with new fencing and a new arch adorns the entrance on Waterview Avenue. Nearly 51,366 burials have been identified. Since there are an estimated 55,000 burials at Mount Auburn, this is clearly a work in progress and will evolve over time.
Hopefully, it will serve its intended purpose -- to provide preliminary documentation of the historic landscape and to help loved ones locate family graves -- and it has been gratifying to hear from the families of those whose graves have been located so far during the project.
Excerpts are from the Maryland State Archives in cooperation with the Lost Neighborhoods Project.