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Mystery graveyard emerges in man’s yard

BEN BENTON

Chattanooga Times Free Press

Associated Press

NORMANDY, Tenn. (AP) — It was like a scene from a horror movie as Ricky Greene slipped his hand into the darkness under a concrete slab that had been pried up from his yard in Coffee County.

Reaching into the space beneath, he felt what he thought were the wooden contours of a casket.

Rising to look around, he realized he was surrounded by rectangular impressions, all in neat rows.

They were almost certainly graves.

Lots of summer rain had kept Greene from mowing as often as he wanted, so the grass was getting high last month when he got out his mower and started cutting for the last time before fall. He planned to build a pond in the front yard this winter.

But as he mowed, the 55-year-old Greene noticed his once-level yard was strangely deformed. His mower was grinding across humps in the ground — humps he never noticed in four years of living on Emmett Stone Lane.

“It was just like a roller coaster. I thought I was getting a sinkhole,” Greene said recently as he stepped gingerly around the rectangles with his dog, Lucy.

Greene started calling county and state offices, his neighbors, even a local funeral home, for ideas about the name of the cemetery or the people buried there.

He said his neighbor to the rear of the property once owned the land his home is on, and she told him she’d never noticed the neat rows of graves under a huge oak tree in 30 years of mowing.

“It was like they were popping up, saying, ‘Here we are,'” he said.

Records in the property assessor’s office show Greene’s lot had been subdivided from that neighbor’s property and there had been several owners through the years. But early in the last century, around 1907, a woman named Alice Arnold consolidated several parcels belonging to a number of people.

Families who owned those lots had names like Puryear, McMurray, Cotton. Even earlier, there were Smiths and Hoovers. And sometime during this period, Emmett Stone, for whom the road Greene lives on is named, owned a large farm in the area. But it’s unclear whether Greene’s land was ever part of it.

Coffee County Property Assessor Ellen Vaughn said the jumble of names in the handwritten pages describing how the properties were assembled makes it hard to decide where to start looking. In any case, none of the records mentions a cemetery.

The Coffee County Historical Society has no information on the cemetery in its records, and Greene’s property lies in an area that has little history on file, society Vice President Joanna Lewis said. Lewis and fellow society member Pat Berges say members of the historical group are anxious to get more information.

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