The Sinking of Lincoln Memorial Cemetery

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Within section 66, lot 37, grave number two of a peaceful, soggy cemetery in south-central Portsmouth, Virginia, John Scott has been resting in peace since November 26, 1941.  According to his leaning veteran’s headstone, Scott died four days earlier, he has no recorded date of birth and he was a pre-World War II African-American Private, most likely in a US Army Transportation Corps unit.  I searched digital records and archives online for about an hour and I was unable to locate the exact army unit number on the stone, or even Scott’s obituary.

The leaning headstone of John Scott

Similar to many other African-American Veteran graves at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, Private Scott’s resting place is sinking away from history.

But, it’s not just about Lincoln’s veterans; there are people from all walks of life interred at Lincoln. One notable person was, Cornelius “Captain” Powell, a well-loved local merchant. According to the February 26, 1949 edition of the Norfolk Journal and Guide newspaper, Powell was given, “Impressive Funeral Rites” with a large attendance.

Like most large African-American cemeteries in America, Lincoln Cemetery was born in an era of complete segregation and racial repression.  Sadly, during that time many of these cemeteries were on their own-without civic aid, relying on churches and the community for support. But time has passed. The reasons are many and the solutions are few. The sorrowful fact is, the landscape of Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, where human beings are interred, is slowly and sadly evolving into a wetland.  People with dreams and dignity; families, heroes, the poor, the rich; children, grandparents, aunts, uncles, mothers, fathers, cousins. They are all buried in the soggy, hallowed ground at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery.

Standing water at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is a common site.
Standing water at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery is a common site.

The elephant in the room of what we know to be southeastern Virginia is simply that it’s a soggy place-it has always been.  We build, fill, repair, move, trench, drain and dredge all throughout the seven cities of southeastern Virginia. But sometimes, mother nature has her own plans and we need to adjust.

The situation at Lincoln Cemetery is shocking indeed, but it is only one of the hundreds of historic cemeteries suffering in America. Those cemeteries owned by private companies, or organizations such as churches, as well as cemeteries owned municipally get the best perpetual treatment of course – and none are perfect. Some cemeteries are also cared for by civic groups and organized volunteers who almost always have a big heart and a shoestring budget.  Depending on the cemetery, families are usually responsible for the actual grave upkeep itself, and the surrounding grounds are the cemetery owner’s responsibility.

But what about Lincoln you ask?

As recently as May 2018, a local television station investigated the flooding at Lincoln. According to the broadcast and online article, the person who owned the cemetery passed away and a local church is overseeing things. The online article also notes where the City of Portsmouth was approached about taking over ownership, but the city is said to have declined.

Landscape trenches that seem to be helping.

When I visited Lincoln recently, I was so touched by what I saw I had to stop and gather my thoughts, then after a few minutes, it became obvious to me that the families, the church and a company it has hired are doing the best they can on a budget. There’s also some trenching, which in my layman opinion, seems to be working in one area. The overall task of fixing the cemetery’s landscape is obviously a great one.

If you plan to visit Lincoln Memorial Cemetery, please use great care when touring the grounds…things are quite fragile in some areas.

I have produced a two-part companion video of a tour through Lincoln Memorial Cemetery. You can view them here. 

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery Part 1

Lincoln Memorial Cemetery Part 2

With the intention of awareness, you may freely link to, reference and share this blog post without change or edits.  The entire content of this post is Copyright 2018 Emay Ayche, All Rights Reserved

With peace and love to you,



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