Several feet away, a new sign stands as a different kind of tribute — an updated map.
The section of the cemetery adjacent to South Road and Winston Dorm contains almost 500 unmarked graves, which, until recently, were neither labeled nor honored.
“We knew there were people here, but we didn’t know how many or where,” Chapel Hill Cemeteries Advisory Board member Mary Hayes said. “This looks like park land, but it really isn’t, but it’s a very beautiful, serene place.”
These graves, indicated only by jagged stones scattered amid uneven grass and fallen leaves, were discovered with ground-penetrating radar in a project that began in 2012, Hayes said.
The Cemeteries Advisory Board and Preservation Chapel Hill contracted with archaeologists from Environmental Services Inc., and the Boone-based geological corporation Seramur and Associates, PC.
“They had these machines — it was like a lawn mower with electrical stuff attached,” Hayes said.
Each blip in the machines’ radar indicated a place where the ground had been disturbed — in this case, for the purpose of burying someone — for the past hundred years. Soon, the stretch of grass became a sea of flags marking each of the 475 unmarked gravesites they found.
This is the African-American section of the formerly segregated cemetery. For people who couldn’t afford tombstones, designating graves with unmarked stones was a common practice, but it led to problems later on. People used the section for parking during the 1980s, Preservation Chapel Hill Executive Director Cheri Szcodronski said, and few of the stones remain in their original locations.