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What is Strangers Rest?
Strangers Rest (or, more correctly, Strangers’ Rest) is a 19th century term for single grave spaces, as distinguished from family lots of three, six, or twelve spaces. Those buried in Strangers Rest are usually neither transients nor paupers, though these are among the least expensive gravesites in the cemetery. Most of the Strangers Rest graves are in the area now called Section R, located to the east of Section H, and in the westernmost row of 12-space family lots in Section F. A few single graves are located in selected lots in Sections A, C, F, G, and I (see cemetery maps). There are nearly 1,900 Strangers Rest burials in Washington Cemetery, about 350 of which have headstones placed by the family.
Finding a Strangers Rest Grave
Locating graves in Strangers Rest has been challenging, due to the lack of maps and details in the surviving cemetery records, no consistent pattern in grave locations, and the fact that less than 19% of these graves had headstones as of 2006. Volunteers from Concerned Citizens for Washington Cemetery Care, Inc. (CCWCC) and Washington Cemetery Historic Trust (WCHT) have spent more than twenty years and untold thousands of hours discerning the mysteries of Strangers Rest. The recording methods varied over time, and modern attempts to impose order on the system have sometimes introduced as much confusion as clarity.
One example of this confusion is the term "Section S," as seen in the Glenwood Cemetery database online and in some FindAGrave.com entries. There is no "Section S" in the cemetery; that is a database abbreviation. A family lot is denoted in the burial records and in the database by a single Section letter and a three-digit Lot number; for example, B-123. Most Strangers Rest graves (after 1908) are denoted in the burial records by a four-digit SR number; for example, SR-0123 or SR-X123. For simplicity, the database uses "S" rather than "SR" to represent "Strangers Rest," which is a characteristic (single grave), not a place. The SR number is thus a chronological "grave number," not a geographical "lot number."
Consecutive grave numbers are occasionally adjacent, and are fairly often found in the same general vicinity, but it’s also common for consecutive numbers to be located hundreds of feet apart, even completely across the cemetery. Between 2002 and 2006, WCHT volunteers recorded every headstone in the cemetery, and added this information to the burial database. Through this process, the physical locations of many single graves were determined and recorded. About 70% of the Strangers Rest graves have been located as of 2012.
The WCHT burial database (which is more up to date and takes precedence over the very limited information presently available about Washington Cemetery on the Glenwood website) now describes each Strangers Rest grave that has been found in the area east of Section H (including those in Row 1, Row 2, etc.) with a geographical Section R lot number. Single graves found elsewhere in the cemetery are identified with the specific section and lot number.
Whether single graves have grave numbers, and what kind of numbers, is dependent upon the time period.
The Early Years: 1887-1903, and 1903-1908
Most Strangers Rest graves in the period 1887-1903 are shown in the burial records by lines on a drawing indicating the grave location within a specified 12-space lot. They do not have SR numbers. Most burial records in this period also give the person’s age and gender, unless the person was reinterred from another cemetery. The earliest single graves are in individual lots in Section G (notably Lots 32, 36, 43, and 52/57). Most are buried in either Section F, Lots 75 to 88, or Section R, Rows 1 to 8. There are about 350 single graves in this period.
Many Strangers Rest graves between 1903 and 1908 have grave numbers in the records, but it remains unclear what they mean. Several of the numbers are duplicated later; for example, there are three people with the number 118 (in 1906, 1907, and 1909). Many entries do give the section and lot, but many do not. Location within the lot is not shown. Age and gender were sometimes recorded between 1903 and 1906, but later entries do not show this information. There are about 150 single graves in this period.
Chronologically Numbered Graves: 1909-1948, and 1948-1965
The chronological Strangers Rest grave numbers begin at 100 in 1909 and continue up to 1965. Single graves in this era that have been located now have both a chronological "SR" number and a lot number designating their physical location. Most of these are in Section R; however, many of the single graves in the 1930s and later are in Section F. Both Sections R and F were being used at that time, and the record books don’t indicate which section these burials are in.
Between 1909 and 1948, Strangers Rest graves were identified by a numbered concrete marker measuring 3½" x 5" x 7" placed at each grave. Over time, nearly all of the numbered blocks sank into the earth and were covered up by the St. Augustine grass, so that by the 1980s few were visible. Since 1992, CCWCC and WCHT volunteers have uncovered several hundred of these "missing" markers. Eventually, there will be a list of SR graves that have been found (and thus have Section and Lot numbers), and a list of graves that retain only their SR-numbers (or no numbers), indicating that they have not been found. This is still a work in progress. There are about 1,240 single graves in this period.
Most Strangers Rest graves between 1948 and 1965 have numbers in the records, but no numbers on the ground. If these post-1948 graves have headstones, the WCHT database will show the physical location. Otherwise, there is no way to find them. There are about 120 single graves in this period.
The Late Years: 1965-1977, 1977-1999, and 1999-present
Most Strangers Rest graves between 1965 and 1977 have no numbers in the records and thus no numbers on the ground, though sometimes these later burial records give a verbal description, such as "next to fence." There are about 20 single graves in this period.
The last cemetery caretaker died in 1977, and CCWCC then stepped in to care for the cemetery. During the CCWCC years, 1977-1999, there were only three Strangers Rest burials, all in spaces previously purchased, as CCWCC could not sell burial sites.
Since Glenwood began managing the cemetery as a result of the merger of CCWCC Inc. with Glenwood Cemetery Inc. in March 1999, there have been a small number of single grave burials in selected lots in Sections C and G. These burials are recorded by Glenwood staff and identified with the physical lot location.
Strangers Rest Numbers Explained
The SR numbers are essentially chronological, but not entirely logical. The numbers between 100 and 999 are fairly straightforward, except for a few duplicates and skipped numbers. Then, instead of continuing with 1000, 1001, 1002, the cemetery operators at the time chose to use an “X” to mean 1000. So the next burials were X, X1, X2, etc. In the database, to make these numbers sort correctly, they were entered as numbers only - 1000, 1001, 1002, etc. This scheme works pretty well up to X324 (1324). Then there are two X325s, two X328s, no X331 or X332, two X334s, and three X336s. The numbers from X340 to X399, inclusive, were skipped. By then, the record keepers had apparently forgotten why they were using the X, so the last few numbers in this series are 407, 408, 409… and the very next number is 4010 (aka, X410, or 1410). They kept this up for awhile - 4011, 4012, up to 4058, when they realized their error and recorded the next one as 459 (that is, X459, or 1459). The numbers from X460 to X499, inclusive, were skipped. After X503 there are several SR burials with no number, and then, way out of sequence timewise, X470 and X471, followed by several with no number.
Mapping Section R
The area now called Section R was formerly the eastern part of Section H, covering about an acre. If there ever were any maps of this area, they have not been seen by anyone now living. Therefore, WCHT had a surveyor divide Section R into precise 25'x25' squares (no walkways), and assigned "lot" numbers to them. The Section R lot numbers are displayed on round posts placed every 50 feet.
Since the rows of graves are somewhat irregular, being neither in perfectly straight lines nor parallel lines, some graves do appear to cross a line, and some rows of graves are not parallel to the grid lines. The volunteer recorders then had to make some judgment calls as to which square a grave was said to be in, so the R-numbers aren’t perfect, but they are a helpful approximation to get you close to the right place.