Stephen F. Austin State University

Tombstone Mysteries (April 2016)

Tombstone Mysteries
By Jeff Campbell

Deep in the heart of Texas the Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation has a sustained history of restoring historic cemeteries. In our fifteen year history we have restored numerous cemeteries in Plano, Texas. Additionally we have undertaken or assisted on projects in Richardson and Frisco, Texas.

One of the challenges of cemetery restoration is engaging young people and their families. Most of our cemetery volunteers tend to be adults. So how do you engage young people and their families to take part in cemetery restoration without resorting to ghostly or Halloween type tactics? Here at the Plano Conservancy we brainstormed, with the help of Sundance Associates, and came up with the concept of "Tombstone Mysteries-Solve 'Em and Save 'Em".
Our first Tombstone Mysteries was held on May 9th, 2015. The location was at Old City Cemetery and the adjacent Davis Cemetery. Both of these cemeteries are located in the Douglass Community of Plano.

Old City Cemetery is sometimes referred to as Pioneer Cemetery; this large burial ground was designated in 1848. Joseph Klepper established the Old City Cemetery. He was born in Tennessee in 1804. One of the original Peters Colonists, he came to the Plano area in the 1840's. The cemetery was associated with the earliest Methodist Church in Plano, where worshippers gathered until 1894. Four other Peters Colonists, the original Plano pioneers are buried in this cemetery.

Old City Cemetery has a unique African American history. Over the years, the original Peters colony neighborhood, for which the cemetery was built for, evolved into an African American community. This resulted in Old City Cemetery becoming one of the first integrated cemeteries in the State of Texas.

Davis Cemetery is named after L.A. Davis a prominent figure in Plano's African American history. In 1910, Lee Andrew (L.A.) Davis came to Plano from south Texas, finding work as a sharecropper. Over the years Mr. Davis became a community leader and business owner. Mr. Davis invested in stocks and real estate.

Under Jim Crowe laws and segregation African Americans found it difficult to buy property in Plano. Mr. Davis used his financial clout to purchase a large section of property in Plano's Douglass Community and then sold lots to local African Americans. In 1945, Mr. Davis also bought a plot of vacant land and established L.A. Davis Cemetery. The cemetery was used by African-Americans in the Douglass Community.

Our event had to major themes; "Solve 'Em" and Save 'Em. The "Solve 'Em" component included learning about the people of Plano's past, learning about Plano's veterans and learning about what different cemetery symbols mean. The "save em" component included learning how to clean a grave stone. Also, with the assistance of the Plano Garden Club, we had a group planting flowers in the cemetery.

"Solve 'Em" was conducted through our Mystery Tour. On the mystery tour participants were given a packet that includes a numbered cemetery map and a corresponding sheet of names and "mysteries" to solve. Using the map participants were able to locate the gravestone, where a plastic folder with the answer to the "mystery" would be found. Stickers were also in the packet and they were placed by the name on the list. When all the names on the sheet have stickers the sheet is turned in and the participants were entered into a drawing for a copy of the Arcadia book "Plano's Historic Cemeteries". We give away 20 copies of the book. The Mystery Tour allows participants to learn about people from Plano's past, Plano historic events and the meaning of symbols on tombstones.

The other element of "Solve 'Em" was done in the tradition of the Old Time Decoration days; participants placed carnations on the graves of our Plano Veterans. All participants were provided with a map of all the veterans buried in Plano Mutual Cemetery. Carnations are used instead of plastic flags because they are biodegradable.

"Save 'Em" was an interactive opportunity to clean gravestones. Participants had the opportunity to learn gravestone cleaning under the supervision of professionals with Texas Cemetery Restoration LLC and The Plano Conservancy for Historic Preservation. Cleaning the stones was done with water and D/2. D/2 is a biological solution it is a biodegradable, easy to use liquid that removes stains from mold, algae, mildew, lichens and air pollutants.

We had no idea whether this event would be a success or not. Our apprehension was put to rest when numerous families arrived a few minutes before our start time of 9:00 AM. For the duration of the two hour event we had almost 200 attendees. Most of our attendees were families with children ranging from elementary school age to high school students. There were many smiling faces and many questions of "when is the next one?"

Our second Tombstone Mysteries will be held at Plano Mutual Cemetery on April 16th 2016. We thank the Plano Heritage Commission, Texas Cemetery Restoration and Sundance Associates for making these events a success. You can register at

If you are interested in how to conduct your own Tombstone Mysteries please feel free to contact me at