The Old Magnolia Tree

When our family lived in Durham, North Carolina, for the second time between the years of 1963 and 1971, we lived in an area that was a boyhood dream. In our back yard, less than 20 yards from the house, was an old log cabin with remnants of a linoleum floor and a covered hole in the wall that was once for a stovepipe. The cabin had been a dwelling at one time. Just across the street, was the eastern boundary of Duke Forest, in which my neighborhood friends and I had a network of paths and forts extending almost to Orange County to the east.

As the environment was conducive to the exploits of a young explorer, I ventured in all directions to discover the secrets of the domain. One particular day, strolling south on our street, Ridge Road, I noticed the faint trace of a path off into the wooded area to the west. I followed it in about 20 yards or so when it merged into an old wagon trail. Though it was overgrown with grasses and reeds, no trees had grown in the trail, making it discernible from the enveloping forest.

Proceeding about a hundred yards or so, the wagon trail circled a large Magnolia tree overgrown with vines. The area around the base of the tree, which was encircled by the old wagon trail, was thick with growth, but headstones were vaguely visible within the roughly 30-foot circular area.

Curiosity piqued, I walked into the thatch and began pulling away vines and brush to see how extensive this small, secluded cemetery was, to discover what seemed to be a private, sacred, burial ground of several families that had once lived in the area. Some of the markers consisted of only stones, some of which had unreadable inscriptions on them, but others were full-blown headstones of which most were broken.

Though the reading of the headstones was difficult due to weathering, moss, and such, there were several graves marked CSA indicating Confederate soldiers, some that had died during the Civil War years. The range of dates, as far as I could tell, spanned from the early to mid 19th century (for most of them) to a few dated in the early 1900s.

That evening, I mentioned my finding to Dad, who was anxious for me to take him there. When I showed him my discovery, he was speechless, as his interest in history and things of such nature are the very reason for my own.

Years later, with the advantage of modern technology (namely, Google Maps), I drilled down on the area where that cemetery was according to my memory, which is incredibly accurate through all of the years. The very spot where I believe it to have been appears to be right on a new boundary of Duke Forest, abutting a new (or fairly new) housing edition. The cemetery would be right around the line between the two.

As I write this, I’m compelled to dig in a little more and try to find out if anyone who currently lives in the area has any knowledge of that old, sacred, and historic ground.

Since some of the most enjoyable times of my youth were in Durham, North Carolina, all I need is a reason (or an excuse really) to get back down there and re-visit that area.

So be it!

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