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Runtrails' 2005 AT Journal
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JANUARY 9, 2006
"Monuments are for the living, not the dead."
- Frank Wedekind

"A gentle heart finds many friends," a little ceramic and brass memorial on the headstone of departed local resident, Nick Grindstaff, along the Trail in North Carolina.

Although it sounds a bit morbid, there are quite a few monuments, graves, and old cemeteries right along (or close to) the Appalachian Trail. I would have missed some of the rather obscure ones if I hadn't read about them in my AT guide books before my daily forays into the woods. I hope you find the history or other information about them as interesting as I did.

The first individual's grave I read about was on Day 4 in Georgia. It is reportedly located on a side trail near Indian Grave Gap. According to local legend, the gap is named for a two-foot tall rock cairn monument that marks the grave of a lone, unnamed Indian. I didn't see any obvious side trail there and didn't know just how far away the cairn was located, so I stuck to the AT (hence, no photo).

North Carolina wins the numbers count for memorials along the AT with at least four monuments and grave markers for individuals and one little country cemetery that I passed by quietly on Day 25 at a walk. It just didn't seem right to run there:

The first individual's marker I came upon right next to the Trail honors Wade Sutton, a North Carolina Forest Service Ranger who gave his life suppressing a forest fire 783 feet southwest of the marker (below) on December 7, 1968, "that you might more fully enjoy your hike along this trail."

That was very sobering early on in my run/hike, and I thought of Mr. Sutton several times during my journey north when I saw evidence of other forest fires along the Trail. (Day 12)

There are so many volunteers who have toiled to build and maintain the AT the last 75 years, and a few who have even given their lives in the process. We who use the Trail owe them a lot of gratitude.

A week later (Day 19) I noticed a small marble marker off to the side of the Trail to honor the life of Jackelyn Mae Kelly Morris, who died at the age of 50 in 1990. I loved the beautiful etching of mountains, pines, and a deer on the memorial:

The 2001 AT guide I was using doesn't mention this memorial stone, so I don't know this woman's connection to the AT. The guide does tell of another memorial stone in the same area that is one hundred yards off the Trail at Hurricane Gap. It honors Rex R. Pulford, who died of a heart attack in 1983 during an AT thru-hike.

In Vermont on Day 109 I crossed over a large, swinging suspension bridge that is dedicated to a hiker named Robert Brugman, who drowned crossing the Mill River (below) several years ago. It is about a tenth of a mile from VT 103 at the Clarendon Gorge.

I wondered later on in Maine, where bridges are a rarity, how many hikers have drowned fording rivers there!

On Day 29 in North Carolina I saw a poignant message on a tall stone monument to "Uncle Nick Grindstaff," located about a mile north of the Iron Mountain shelter. The engraving on the monument gives his birth date (in 1851)and death (in 1923) with the inscription, "lived alone, suffered alone, died alone." How sad!

According to the AT guide, Grindstaff was orphaned at three, then robbed and beaten on a trip out West at age 26. Disillusioned, he became a hermit and lived his remaining 45 years on Iron Mountain with only his dogs as companions. Someone had placed a small wind chime and ceramic heart on the monument as a tribute (see photo at top of page).

The memorials to two children along the AT are also sad.

The youngest child was "Little Ottie" Powell, who was almost five when he died in the central Virginia woods on a cold November day in 1891 after he wandered away from school with some older boys who were gathering firewood for the stove. Hundreds of people searched for Little Ottie for weeks before a group of men found his remains on top of the mountain five months later, almost four miles from his school.

Ottie's small memorial and grave are right along the Trail at the summit of Bluff Mountain. As you can see in the photo above, hikers have placed various toys and other memorabilia on the monument to commemorate the child's death.

Jim found the other child's white marble stone along the dirt road not far from Mad Tom Notch in western Vermont on Day 109. Thirteen-year-old Johnny M. Howard was crushed to death by a load of lumber in that location 'way back in 1887, a few years before Ottie's death:


"Monuments and archaeological pieces serve as testimonies of man's greatness and establish a dialogue between civilizations showing the extent to which human beings are linked." - Vincente Fox

Some memorials pay tribute to folks who are more widely known.

In Virginia there is an impressive granite monument to Audie Murphy, the most-decorated military person in World War II. Murphy, who was later an actor, died in an airplane crash in 1971 on the summit of Brush Mountain.

The four-foot high memorial is inscribed with his acts of valor and is located on an unmarked trail 200 feet off the AT about halfway between Craig Creek and Trout Creek. See Day 44.

The Appalachian Trail in Maryland is steeped in history from the Revolutionary War and Civil War. On Day 61 in Maryland I went by several graves and monuments to men who played prominent parts in the history of our country.

The most famous of these is George Washington, who would become our first president. There are memorials to him in several states.

When you think of the Washington Monument, probably the tall, simple memorial in Washington, D.C., comes to mind. It was finished in 1885. But here is another "Washington Monument," erected much earlier to pay tribute to this great hero:

A sign near the monument reads,

"Volunteer villagers of nearby Boonesboro celebrated their Independence Day, July 4, 1827, by building and dedicating this first monument to the memory of George Washington.

Restored and altered many times over a hundred years by patriotic citizens, it was finally restored to its original design in 1934-36 by the Civilian Conservation Corps.

This monument, used by the Union Army during the Civil Was as a signal station, and its surrounding land was bought by the Washington County Historical Society in 1922 and presented to the State of Maryland for a park developed in 1934.

This massive structure was certified a "Maryland Historical Monument" in March, 1972 and a "National Historical Monument" in November, 1972."

Although he is not as famous, a Brigadier General from the Civil War, Samuel Garland, Jr., is buried along the AT in Maryland. Garland was a Confederate soldier from Lynchburg, VA. He was killed on September 14, 1862 in nearby Wise's Field while leading his men in a battle. This is his headstone:

The third memorial I passed on Day 61 was in Gathland State Park, one of a string of parks through which the AT passes in Maryland.

"Gath" was the nom de plume of the most prolific Civil War correspondent, George Alfred Townsend. According to the AT guide, he constructed several stone buildings at Cramptom Gap after the war: "a home, a house for his wife, a hall, a library, a lodge, a guesthouse, servants' houses, stable and a tomb for himself (see photo below), where he was not buried. He called his estate 'Gathland'."

After Townsend's death most of the buildings were vandalized. A wing of the house has been restored and is currently a museum in the park. There is also an elaborate arch at the entrance to the park that was dedicated in 1896 as a memorial to Civil War correspondents and artists. The museum and arch are pictured in my entry on Day 61.

One of the people who had the most profound influence on building the Appalachian Trail was Myron H. Avery, who has a beautiful peak named for him in the Bigelow mountain range in Maine. There are photos from the summit on Day 135 and in several post entries of my favorite places.

What an appropriate place to honor this man, who lived from 1899 to 1952. Engraved on the plaque shown below is a tribute to Avery, "whose foresight, leadership, and diligence made possible the Appalachian Trail, this 2,000-mile footpath from Maine to Georgia."

Thank you, Mr. Avery and everyone else who made possible this incredible Trail.


Two other little interesting cemeteries caught my eye as I wandered that path (from Georgia to Maine, not the other way).

This totally unkempt family cemetery in Pennsylvania saddened both Jim and me as we passed by on Day 65. Surrounded by an attractive iron fence, the 19th century headstones were in disarray, some crumbled and broken, and weeds had taken over. We wondered why the ancestors of the people buried there have not taken better care of the burial plot:

And finally, there was this wrought-iron archway with the words, "The Gate of Heaven" poignantly cast toward the sky, in another weedy place, this time in New York (Day 98).

A side trail leads to a small cemetery on the grounds of a former state mental hospital. The path was obscure and the day was hot so I didn't traipse up the hill to see the headstones. But I liked the gate!

There. I hope this photo essay wasn't too much of "downer." I've always enjoyed visiting monuments around the country, and little cemeteries have always fascinated me, so I was more intrigued than bummed out to learn about the history of the people memorialized along the AT.

These photos do emphasize the point, however, that life is short - sometimes VERY short. Live each day like it might be your last one!

I've catalogued over 3,000 AT photos now and will include some of them in several dozen photo essays covering categories like dramatic skies, idyllic valley views, jungle-y forests, cascading creeks, various flora and fauna, covered bridges, historical places, trail towns, humorous signs, strange and interesting things to see along the AT, and yes, even some less-than-lovely views - that of 1 percent of the AT I haven't shown you yet! (Wicked, eh?)

Next up: more rock structures in the form of walls, abandoned buildings, fireplaces, etc. along the Appalachian Trail.

"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil, Cody, and Tater

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2006 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil