Tornado cleanup strains cemetery funds

Tornado cleanup strains cemetery funds

May 27th, 2011 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

Ann Buchanan examines the grave of her late husband Sonny Buchanan after her daughter called her saying "There's a billboard on top of daddy." The Buchanans relocated to Ringgold, Ga., 37-years-ago this month after their Resaca, Ga., home was totaled by a previous tornado.

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

RINGGOLD, Ga.-Marshall Bandy's heart sinks as he looks out at fallen tombstones and tree limbs spread across the cemetery filled with his relatives dating back to the Civil War.

"All I could think of is half a million dollars to clean it up," he said, a month later in the backroom of his two-story white-paneled law office.

The 62-year-old Ringgold native is no stranger to preserving his family history.

His law office off LaFayette Street was once the house of his great-aunt Mabel Adams, where Bandy spent many summer nights sleeping in a back bedroom with a cracked window. Across from his desk, a black-and-white photo of Adams sits on a shelf above a tattered family Bible used in 1858.


To find a relative buried in the Nathan Anderson Cemetery, go to, where every tombstone is photographed and organized alphabetically.

Through the window, the trees block a view of the cemetery about a quarter mile down the road and named after his great-great-great-grandfather Nathan Anderson, who dedicated the original portion of the lot in 1842. The cemetery is the oldest one in the area, he said.

Before Adams died in 1983, his great-aunt made him promise he would watch over the Nathan Anderson Cemetery and not let the trust fund she had spent her life saving up go to waste, Bandy said.

After the deadly April 27 tornado, Bandy visited the cemetery to see the damage. Powerful winds had knocked over many tombstones. Tree limbs had snapped off, and trees were uprooted, in one case, pulling up a part of the cemetery's black-topped road. At least one crypt was exposed.

Bandy, who is on the board of the cemetery's trust fund, said the board is struggling to find the money to keep the grass trimmed, much less remove the fallen trees and limbs left behind by the storm.

But the destruction might be a blessing in disguise. The damage may spark interest from family members who have ancestors buried in the cemetery, Bandy said.

"It's one of those things that is a wake-up call," he said.


When Ann Buchanan got the call that her husband's gravesite had been covered by a Ruby Falls billboard, she felt a different kind of grief.

No stranger to the destruction of a massive tornado, Buchanan lost her home in a 1974 tornado that swept through Resaca, Ga. As the winds began to become fierce last month, she prayed, "Lord, I just had my house repainted; don't let my house get hit again."

While her house was spared this time, the sign covering her husband's grave was a different loss. Her husband, Glenn Buchanan, was buried in the Nathan Anderson cemetery in 2006 after a long fight with diabetes and a kidney transplant.

"It broke my heart to see that laying on it," said Buchanan, who was married for 42 years. "You know it didn't affect him, but it throws you for a loop."

Buchanan hasn't been back since the billboard was removed, and she worries her husband's tombstone will be scraped or cracked.

The land originally belonged to Cherokees who - until their removal from the land in the 1830s - buried their dead there, Bandy said. Slaves - in unmarked graves - and Union and Confederate soldiers also were buried in the cemetery, he said.

Before the storm, the cemetery board had collected only $150 toward the yearly fund to keep the grass mowed, he said. But after the April storm blew through, family members began to step up to clean the property and donate more funds.

Gilbert Childers, who has generations of relatives buried in the lot, began to cut away fallen branches and overturn the fallen tombstones around his family's plot as soon as he saw the damage.

For the next few weeks, he recruited volunteers at the Ringgold United Methodist Church and asked them to help clear the cemetery. A man from Kennesaw, Ga., and a family from Ooltewah were among the volunteers, he said.

"It was just a huge job," he said.

One month after the storm, most of the cemetery has been cleared by volunteers and groups such as the Sons of Confederate Veterans. But the larger task of clearing the stumps and branches and the monthly upkeep still are pressing, Bandy said.

"We are looking for people that have an interest in history and genealogy to help us," he said.

Since the storm, Bandy said he has contacted the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation and wants to work with its leaders to erect a memorial in their honor. Bandy said he also would like to see a monument to the slaves buried in the cemetery.

The key now is to find families with ties to the cemetery and its history, he said.

"We have people buried in that cemetery [from] all over the Chattanooga area," Bandy said.