The Madison-Eckles Cemetery Park is transitioning to a pocket park, a publicly accessible small park, with the help of the residents of Normal Station. In recent years the cemetery has become derelict, prompting residents to look for change.
“When I moved into the neighborhood, I had no idea that we had a cemetery,” said Margaret Vandiver.
Vandiver moved into the area in 2004 and spoke with other individuals that brought up the cemetery to her. “The place was so overgrown back then,” she said. “You could walk down Carnes Street, and have no idea that it was a cemetery. It was mass vegetation that was filled with layers of grass and trash that people have thrown over there for years.”
Normal Station’s residents have transformed the landscape of the lot since Vandiver’s first initial move to the area and it is no longer overgrown. However, it was not as easy as getting together with volunteers and having a clean-up day. The residents had one, glaring problem: they did not own the property and could not take care of the area legally.
They took on the initiative to find out what owned the property to only come to a dead end. There was no paper trail showing who owned the park. “When we went to the county records, it just said cemetery,” Vandiver said. “We were left with the choice of to either trespass or do nothing, so we trespassed.”
The neighbors who were involved did what they could to get the cemetery cleaned. In court appearances, they were granted automated ownership due to an opposing side not showing up in 2015. A local attorney and former Normal Station resident, John Smith, did extensive research and prepared the court filing.
Normal Station’s residents were not the only ones involved in transforming the lot. They have had students from colleges all over, including the University of Memphis, come to lend a hand in the past. Students have cleaned the remaining tombstones of individuals who remain untraceable to this day.
“I think it would be a good project for an Anthropology class at the UofM to find families of those whose tombstones are at the gravesite,” said Vandiver.
Plans for the future park are still ideal, but COVID-19 has slowed down the process for the residents.
“We would like to lay a pathway out so that it can be a little more accessible for the handicap and more maneuverable,” said Wilma Taylor, another resident of Normal Station who has been involved with this project since the beginning. “My dream is to start having activities there.”
For now, residents are maintaining the cemetery by planning to put new stairs that lead up to the space and cutting down new trees, providing shelter and more lighting for the future.
A sign has been posted, cautioning visitors that Madison Eckles Cemetery Park is still under construction.