By LINDA HICKS
Searcy Daily Citizen, April 2, 2000
rmed with shaving cream and a micro-recorder, Tommy Treadway of Searcy has spent a lot of time in area cemeteries. His mission is to preserve history. Treadway, a member of the White County Historical Society, started helping to record the information from tombstones, and in the first three weeks completed 10 cemeteries.
The shaving cream makes reading the darkened epitaphs easier. In the Gum Springs Cemetery, the foam helped one to easily read a faded, “George Thomas, Faithful member of the Endless Chain Circle No. 232, died September 29, 1914.”
Treadway spreads the shaving cream on the tombstones to help him better read the information, then he records it. “Rain washes away the shaving cream,” he said. “I wouldn’t use anything to harm the stones. I read about this somewhere and it worked well.”
Yet, he said, he often is faced with explaining his efforts.
“People are protective of cemeteries. They see someone walking around spraying something on tombstones, (and) they want to know what is going on,” he said.
He doesn’t mind. Besides, he said, it generally provides an opportunity to strike up a conversation, and he ends up learning more that way.
Discolored and broken stones tend to delay matters, but they do not discourage the retired postmaster from completing his mission. In some instances, he must temporarily piece the broken stones back together in order to read the writing on them.
Much of Treadway’s research remains etched in his mind. For instance, just about every cemetery has a highly decorated soldier buried there. He took a stranger to one that is buried at Gum Springs. The name on the tombstone reads, “Wilbur Dale Latimer.” From looking at the tombstone, one knows he served in the Vietnam War and he achieved 26 Oak Leaf clusters. Treadway spent a few minutes reading and digesting the information prior to offering, “He was some kind of hero.”
In a tour of the cemetery, he pointed out a couple of others. One small child’s tombstone has a Mickey Mouse engraved on the back of it. A young woman’s marker bears her photo. There is also an attractive, granite bench inviting one to sit while visiting her grave.
A stone at another graveside reads, “I would say to the passerby, as you are now so once was I. And as I am so, you must be. Prepare for death and eternity.”
“That’s kind of sobering,” Treadway said. “There’s one close to where my dad is buried that reads something like that.”
When asked about other cemeteries, Treadway said that all of them have things in common. For instance, all have graves marked by stones bearing no names or dates. And, Treadway said, “There are so many young people without markers.”
He understands what can happen when a loved one’s grave is not marked in a timely manner following a burial. His grandmother’s grave, he said, went unmarked for about 10 years.
“I searched and searched for it,” he said. One day while he was searching, luckily, he said, he happened upon someone who had a relative buried in the cemetery that knew where his grandmother was buried.
He shared other tidbits relating to other cemeteries. Thirty-three Confederate soldiers are buried at the old Dogwood Cemetery, located south of Griffithville. Also at that cemetery there is a unique stone marking the graves of some people who were killed in a sawmill explosion in 1906.
In the 1960s, according to historical society records, a West Point cemetery had 173 names recorded. When Treadway completed archiving the cemetery, it had 681 names recorded.
The process of archiving a cemetery by one person alone can be slow, Treadway said. A group can make “short work” of such a detailed project, he added.
He encourages everyone to go to their family members’ graves and inspect the tombstones. Many hundreds, he said, are in need of repair. He has found many off the base and broken.
“You can tell a lot about a community by driving through and looking at the cemeteries,” he said. “A town with a well-kept cemetery has a lot of pride.”