FAIRMONT — Have you ever thought you would like to take an afternoon sometime and go visit one or more of Fairmont’s cemeteries and learn about some of the interesting people buried there?
Well, take notice. Gena Wagaman has done that for you.
And she has done it in a very interesting, 128-page pictorial entitled “Images
of America — Fairmont’s Cemeteries.”
There are many good photographs, many taken by Wagaman and others from area historic collections for the soft-cover edition, with excellent information to go with each.
It is a part of Fairmont’s culture perhaps never covered in this manner previously.
For instance, the cover shows a photograph taken in 1921 of a monument to Col. Zackquill Morgan being unveiled at the Pricketts Fort cemetery
How did she get the idea for the book?
“I saw an ad that Aracadia Press was looking for new ideas,” she said. “And people have been telling me I should write a book about cemeteries. So I made a proposal, and they accepted it. And we went from there.”
Where did her interest come from?
“It is something that’s been around for quite a period,” she said. “My step-granddad was a caretaker in a large urban cemetery for a long time. And when we were little, we would go out for rides in the country and through the cemeteries, and talk about the people (buried there).”
She points out in her book that death is a part of life, and that each culture has chosen a unique method of disposing of human remains.
How did she get interested in Fairmont’s City Cemetery?
“I saw a news story about a Girl Scout troop cleaning up the park, so I came down from Morgantown to see if I could find it. It took me three trips, but I did find it,” she said.
She said the first stones she looked at in the cemetery were for Irish immigrants.
“I belong to a group that studies Irish-American culture and proposed a paper. I did research for the Murphys, the Carneys, and the Monohans,” she said.
“I went over to Northern Island to present the paper, and when I came back, WVU had a service-learning situation. There were only four schools in the country that received a grant to incorporate service learning into their curriculum.”
So Wagaman wrote a grant to the service-learning office, and they funded it.
“They funded it for three years,” she said. “We had students from WVU come down and work and students from Fairmont State did, also. And Pruntytown crews come out the last couple of years.”
Wagaman said the Fairmont City Cemetery was in use from about 1816 through the 1930s.
“The latter part of its use was as a pauper’s graveyard. There are some miners from Everettsville mine disasters in the early 1930s that are buried there, also,” she said.
Wagaman mentioned one gravestone in particular that interested her.
“We have Vedkiah Kidwell, who was a two-term congressman for the state of Virginia in 1850s,” she said. “He’s buried there. He was born in Virginia, and when the Civil War broke out, he went for the South. He was also one of the men responsible for the forming of Marion County in 1842.
“But he wasn’t allowed to hold public office when he came back from the war,” she said.
Wagaman said the City Cemetery contains between 200 and 300 graves. “It’s no longer in use,” she pointed out.
Wagaman noted she spent about a year on the book — between the time of the proposal and putting the book in its final form.
She said her study of Fairmont’s cemeteries continues.
“We’re hoping to get as much information about local cemeteries as we can. We would like to be able to have a map to give people wanting to know about certain cemeteries and where they are,” she said.
Wagaman moved to Fairmont three years ago from Morgantown. She is originally from the Harrisburg area of Pennsylvania.
“I came here in 1988 to go to school at WVU. I was in the doctoral program in the English department. Then I started work in extension in 1992,” she said.
She has been employed in Morgantown for the WVU Extension Service for 15 years.
Wagaman is now managing the Woodlawn Cemetery for its board of trustees.
The book is now available at the Marion County Historical Society Museum.
She plans a signing Wednesday at Barnes and Noble at the University Town Center near Morgantown.