Live your dash - a poem by Linda Ellis, talks of the little line on a headstone that separates the beginning and end of a life. Take a walk in any cemetery and you will find dashes everywhere. Historical accounts of lives lived, loves lost and sadly history forgotten. May is National Preservation Month – with this stroll down memory lane I hope to excite you with news from the Historic Preservation frontier.
Historic cemeteries are irreplaceable landscapes and many in our state have been neglected for decades with some more endangered than others. For every known rural burial ground, there are at least five that have been forgotten from our collective consciousness. Cemeteries and graveyards face dramatic pressures locally, regionally and nationally. Economic pressures for development, pressures from abandonment in our rural settings and decay from nature or vandals. In contrast to other historic and archaeological resources, cemeteries are different since they often involve a variety of functions. The most notable functions are sacred, artistic, historical and genealogical. The resources present include not only the human remains, but also sculptures and monuments, as well as the landscape itself. This is making cemeteries and their preservation very complex and expensive.
Perhaps the most influential factor is the change in the rituals associated with burying our dead. Not so long ago it was family, friends and members of the community that would perform the activities associated with death. From building the coffin to digging the grave, death was dealt with on a personal basis. The deceased were acknowledged long after they had passed from this earth through events such as Decoration Day and cleanup day. These events were a time when a family is reunited to remember and honor the dash. If you know of a cemetery in disrepair, contact Brookings Historic Preservation Commission at firstname.lastname@example.org or the South Dakota Historic Preservation office at email@example.com.
Governor Dennis Daugaard has proclaimed May as Archaeology & Historic Preservation Month in South Dakota. “South Dakota’s cultural heritage is rich and diverse as represented by thousands of archaeological and historical sites, historic buildings, and landscapes that have been discovered and recorded throughout our state. Public appreciation and understanding is the foundation of preserving South Dakota’s past for future generations,” Governor Daugaard said in the proclamation.
This year’s theme, See! Save! Celebrate!, encourages people to See! the historic beauty of their local communities. If a site is found to be neglected and deteriorating, invest the time to research how to Save! it. Then, take time to Celebrate! all the efforts that have been made to retain historic authenticity in local sites and preserve their stories. Celebrated in May, South Dakota's Archaeology & Historic Preservation Month was created to acquaint the public with the disciplines of archaeology and historic preservation and to strengthen the enduring bond between the past and the present.
Brookings Historic Preservation Commission Member