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September 21, 2019

Great Smoky Mountains Association Announces Release of Cemeteries of the Smokies

From solitary, unmarked burials to church graveyards crowded with more than a hundred monuments, cemeteries of Great Smoky Mountains National Park are enduring historic treasures. And within the cemeteries distributed throughout the park, each somber monument offers insight into the hardships, personalities, economics and beliefs of the people who called the Smokies home.

For Cemeteries of the Smokies author Gail Palmer of Maryville, TN, this book represents a historical passion project spanning two decades. This long-anticipated landmark work, published by Great Smoky Mountains Association in the style of a guidebook, features directions to all 152 known cemeteries within the park boundary and provides in-depth histories of each site alongside a complete listing of burials and dates, kinship links and epitaphs. No other known resource so thoroughly collects this depth of information in one place, displayed with color photographs, detailed lists, charts and an index of local family names.

“While finishing my doctoral degree in cultural studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, I decided I wanted to write a book about the Smokies,” Palmer said. “I knew many of the cemeteries were hidden away from view in beautiful locations, sometimes only a few steps from a roadway or well-traveled trail.”

At first, Palmer said, she believed she’d write a simple guidebook. She soon learned, however, that there were many more cemeteries than she ever imagined and there’d be nothing ‘simple’ about documenting all of them.

“Even more importantly, I discovered fascinating and heartwarming stories about individuals who had lived and died in areas that are now a part of the national park, including members of my mother’s family,” she continued. “With much help from many people and many hours spent searching archival material, interviewing descendants and locating cemeteries, I began seeing the people of the Smokies, their dreams and their sorrows, more clearly.”

Since the park’s creation, officials have noted a significant interest in the topic of cemeteries and ancestry, especially among local people attempting to trace their ancestry to the park. Rangers have answered hundreds of questions from visitors who ran across these historic sites while hiking.

Cemeteries of the Smokies is divided into two sections: East Tennessee and Western North Carolina. On the Tennessee side of the Smokies, 77 known cemeteries are inside the park, with 2,726 graves; in North Carolina, there are 75 known cemeteries with 2,011 graves.

“The park’s cemeteries and this book reveal so much about the lives of those hardy mountain families who called the Great Smoky Mountains home. The family ties, the community ties, fatih, economics, the heart-breaking frequency of infant mortality and the long, happy lives of so many others are all revealed,” said Steve Kemp, editor and publisher of Cemeteries of the Smokies. As a long-time GSMA staffer, Kemp’s involvement with the book’s development has also spanned many years. “There is no better source for historical research than our cemeteries, where the past truly is carved in stone. This book is for anyone who has ever happened upon a small cemetery in the back of beyond on a Smoky Mountain road or trail and wondered about the lives of those buried within.”

In the Smokies, the preservation and decoration of family cemeteries is a time-honored tradition. Most mountain families still make regular pilgrimages to the resting places of their loved ones to host reunions and reflect on happy memories of their elders. For them, land in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is sacred. This book allows the reader to learn about the land, its people and their histories. More than that, it provides guidance to those who want to visit some of the places mentioned in the book, even the cemeteries that are not on most visitors’ agendas.

“Cemeteries of the Smokies has been the longest project I have worked on,” GSMA Senior Publications Specialist Joey Heath said of her work on the book. “It took several years to complete, and every detail was researched, checked and checked again. We strived to create the most comprehensive book we could, and I believe we were successful. I am not saying the book is perfect, but we were diligent, and I hope readers will be pleased.”

For Heath, the most interesting and important information contained in the book is that of the residents and their histories. “What makes Cemeteries of the Smokies so fascinating is not the precise details of a cemetery or who is buried there, but the lives and traditions of the mountain folk who lived here. The strength and resilience of mountain people defined them,” she said. 

GSMA will host a number of Cemeteries of the Smokies book signings with the author throughout the season. The first will be Saturday, Nov. 25, from 2-4 p.m. at GSMNP’s Sugarlands Visitor Center near Gatlinburg, Tenn.; followed on Sunday, Nov. 26, at Cades Cove Visitor Center, also in GSMNP, beginning at 10 a.m. The author will also be participating in a speaker series at Blount County Library in Maryville, Tenn., Dec. 7, at 6 p.m. Additional locations and dates are being planned and will be announced soon.

Great Smoky Mountains Association’s publications are designed to enhance greater public understanding, enjoyment and appreciation of the national park. A national park partner, GSMA has provided more than $36 million to support the park’s educational, scientific and historical programs since its inception 65 years ago.

Support for the association is achieved primarily from sales of educational publications and from annual membership dues. Those who wish to enrich their national park experience are encouraged to become GSMA members.

About The Author

Andy has worked in broadcasting around Western North Carolina over the last 17 years. He serves as the Operations Manager and Program Director for WRGC and WBHN. “I’ve been with the crew here at Five Forty Broadcasting since the idea of bringing the station back to Jackson County at 540-AM. I feel a personal connection with community radio and the area”. In the past, Andy has worked with iHeart Media and Sky Country Broadcasting. He resides in Haywood County.

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