Sunday, June 16, 2024
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Why Are Two People Buried Under This Airport Runway?

Why Are Two People Buried Under This Airport Runway?

Why Are Two People Buried Under This Airport Runway?

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Nobody ever thinks about an airport’s tarmac. Why would they? Whenever you’re at an airport, you’re probably thinking about ensuring you get to your plane on time. Then, you might focus on getting comfortable once you’re on said plane. 

However, Savannah Hilton Head Airport may make you stop and think about its tarmac. That’s because two graves are right on the runway, side by side!

Two Graves at Savannah Hilton Head Airport

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These two graves are quite noticeable. If you were looking at the tarmac, you wouldn’t miss them. They are separated by two rectangular shapes, positioned right beside each other, with clear inscriptions on them.

These two graves are located at the edge of runways 10 and 28. They belong to Catherine and Richard Dotson, two farmers with a historical tie to the land on which the airport now sits.

The History of Cherokee Hills

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Catherine and Richard Dotson once owned the land that now belongs to the Savannah Hilton Head Airport. They were both born in 1797. During their ownership, they operated the original Dotson Family Farm, also known as Cherokee Hills, in the 1800s.

Catherine and Richard were married for 50 years before Catherine passed away in 1877. Richard followed in 1884.

The Death of Richard and Catherine

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When Richard and Catherine passed away, they were both buried on their farmland. At that time, Cherokee Hills had a family cemetery containing approximately 100 graves, including many slave graves.

Catherine, Richard, and 100 other graves rested peacefully on this land for decades. However, everything began to change during World War II when the government required an airport in the area.

The Beginning of World War II

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At the outset of World War II, in 1942, the United States government required additional facilities. Specifically, they needed an area to land their B-24 Liberators and B-17 Flying Fortresses.

They found the land they were seeking in Savannah. Consequently, the U.S. government and the City of Savannah struck a deal that granted the War Department 1,100 acres. These acres now comprise the Savannah Hilton Head Airport.

U.S. Government's Expansion in Savannah

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Initially, the federal government only possessed a portion of what was formerly known as Cherokee Hills. However, they soon recognized the necessity to expand some of their facilities and sought to acquire more land.

This eventually led to the government acquiring the family cemetery belonging to the Dotson family. Since the original family members had all passed away, the government negotiated a deal with Catherine and Richard’s great-grandchildren.

Catherine and Richard Stay on Their Land

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Catherine and Richard’s great-grandchildren didn’t want their ancestors to be forcibly removed from the land they had cherished so deeply. The couple had invested their hearts and souls into their farming land for decades.

So, their descendants struggled to agree to allow the federal government to relocate their graves to another cemetery. Consequently, the government agreed to allow Catherine and Richard to remain on the land indefinitely.

A Runway Over Graves

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Once the agreement was reached between the U.S. government and the descendants of the Dotsons, the government started expanding into this area. The two graves were paved over since the land needed to be transformed into a runway.

However, they did mark the graves of Catherine and Richard so that everyone would know they were there. In doing so, they aimed to honor those who had owned the land before.

The Other Graves

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Meanwhile, the remaining 100 graves in the cemetery were relocated. The government arranged for these individuals to be interred in new graves at Bonaventure Cemetery, also situated in Savannah.

Many other graves at this family cemetery belonged to members of the Dotson family from earlier times. However, the old cemetery also contained the graves of slaves and farm workers.

Two Other Graves at the Airport

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While the Dotson descendants insisted that Catherine and Richard remain forever on the land they cherished, they also wanted to grant two other relatives the right to remain buried there.

The federal government agreed to this. Dotson’s relatives, Daniel Hueston and John Dotson remain buried in Savannah Hilton Head Airport. Their graves are not on the runway. Instead, they lie near a brush.

Savannah Residents Honor Past Land Owners

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While many people may be surprised to hear that four people are buried at Savannah’s airport, residents in the city welcome it. “Somehow the fact that they are still there resting in peace says something about the people who have been caretakers of this city for a long time,” historian Stan Deaton said.

Others believe that Savannah has always been rather eerie. These graves only solidify that perception.

The Bewilderment of the Airport's Graves

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Many also note that both Catherine and Richard Dotson passed away before the first plane ever landed in Savannah. At the time of their deaths, airplanes had not yet been invented.

Deaton is awed by this fact: “If those people could rise from that grave, they would be bewildered by what they see around them,” he explained.