Tornado Doe recommitted at Water Street Cemetery


By Ryan Berry

GREENVILLE — The remains of a person uncovered by the May tornado at the Water Street Cemetery have once again been laid to rest thanks to Zechar Baily Funeral Home, Ft. GreeneVille DAR, Coroner Investigator Joe VanVickle and others. The bones are believed to be at least 173 years old. They were unearthed when a tree was ripped from the ground during the tornado.

The heavens opened up during the ceremony and the rains poured as Regent Penny Weaver of Ft. GreeneVille DAR shared, “Today’s ceremony is a day of remembering. Nothing is really ended until it is forgotten. Whatever is kept in memory still endures. Therefore, we, Fort GreeneVille Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution, dedicate this burial site of the unknown with grateful recognition. May it help to keep alive an appreciation of this historical cemetery and our heritage.”

Although many people have believed the bodies from the Water Cemetery had been moved, the recent discovery proved the cemetery remains a final resting place of many pioneers of Greenville. Burials are recorded from 208 to 151 years ago. There is documentation of only one individual being removed from the cemetery and according to Fort GreeneVille DAR, that individual was a Revolutionary War soldier.

VanVickle assured those at the service that his office and the Greenville Police Department took great care to gather the remains and to reinter the body. He said the remains were first discovered a few days after the tornado in the tree’s root ball. After the discovery and the determination that they were human remains, the site was secured overnight and the process of recovering all the remains began the next day.

“The next morning, we started the recovery process and used the same process we would use in our investigations. Two detectives from Greenville assisted me and it was a good learning process for all,” said VanVickle. During the careful excavation and removal of the tree stump, they also found several artifacts that included five nails and a piece of metal. VanVickle said they were careful not to disturb any other graves.

According to VanVickle, there were not enough remains recovered to determine if the deceased was male or female. He referred to the individual as Tornado Doe.

Water Street Cemetery is listed on the state’s registry of historical cemeteries and VanVickle contacted the state archaeologist to determine the correct steps to take. The artifacts collected were included in the vault and the body was buried in almost the exact same location the remains were found.

Although Tornado Doe’s age could not be determined from the remains, VanVickle shared there were many children buried in the cemetery. During the recovery, they found a portion of a headstone that read an individual had died on Nov. 3, 1850 and was 14 years, 10 months and 28 days old. He does not believe the marker is associated with Tornado Doe.

An article in the 1852 Greenville Telegraph called the cemetery a God forsaken burial spot that was totally unkempt. The article state a committee was formed, and they decided to collect the headstones and get rid of them.

Fort GreeneVille DAR will be placing a marker on the spot of the recommittal. They will also try to find a way to display the portion of a headstone that was recovered.

When committing the remains back to the cemetery Pastor Keith Menter, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, prayed, “As we gather here today at this sacred place as we lay to rest an ancient ancestor, whose name we do not know, nor the paths this person walked in life. We acknowledge the destruction that led to their excavation as we recognize your presence here, this day. So, we place our trust in You that this pioneer will find peace in the soil as we seek to restore balance to weave anew the web of meaning to connect the past, present and future. All as these bones find their rightful place, may this unknown pioneer find their rightful place in you.”

To contact Daily Advocate Editor Ryan Berry, email [email protected].

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